The sweaty world of sport gets the cool, wordy GQ treatment

The mens fashion glossy is over the moon about its new bi-annual supplement, says Ian Burrell
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The Independent Online

That handbook of the perfectly attired sophisticate, GQ, is about to get sporty but editor Dylan Jones is not sweating. On Thursday he will launch a ground-breaking supplement, GQ Sport, dedicated to the finest sports writing. Inspired partly by The New Yorker, the supplement is deliberately text-heavy and sparsely illustrated but runs to 54 pages and is to be given away free with the main magazine.

That handbook of the perfectly attired sophisticate, GQ, is about to get sporty but editor Dylan Jones is not sweating. On Thursday he will launch a ground-breaking supplement, GQ Sport, dedicated to the finest sports writing. Inspired partly by The New Yorker, the supplement is deliberately text-heavy and sparsely illustrated but runs to 54 pages and is to be given away free with the main magazine.

Jones admits such a "self-indulgent" product, with a drawing on its cover, could not normally survive. "I would imagine a newsstand magazine of this nature would find it difficult to sustain the sort of advertising it would need to be a success," he says. But he is relaxed in the knowledge that the venture has already paid for itself, thanks to a sponsorship arrangement with BMW (which gets a three-page promotion, a back page ad and a front page logo for its money).

"[ GQ Sport] has completely washed its face because it's sponsored," he says. "We had the idea, took it out to a sponsor and made it happen because we couldn't afford to do it if it wasn't sponsored. However, I defy anyone to find the association or the branding offensive in any way whatsoever."

BMW, which Jones says was his first choice as sponsor, has signed up to the bi-annual publication "for the foreseeable future". The car manufacturer was impressed with the supplement, Jones claims, because it recognised the magazine was likely to remain in the reader's home for longer than your average title. "If you look at very successful text-dense magazines, particularly the news weeklies like The Economist or The Week or The Spectator, they tend to stick in people's houses for rather a long time. Look at some of the gossipy magazines and by their very nature you need to replace them immediately," he says.

The first edition of GQ Sport leads on a 4,200-word piece by sports journalist of the year Oliver Holt ( Daily Mirror) explaining why London's Olympic bid is a waste of time. The article is accompanied by a full-page cartoon of the Mayor of London (who is notoriously uninterested in sport), clad in unconvincing athletics kit and carrying a note saying "Please excuse Kenneth from games".

Another long piece, 5,500-words by California-based Sanjiv Bhattacharya, is an insightful account of the former undisputed world heavyweight boxing champion Riddick Bowe's painful attempts at a comeback. Interviewed at his training camp in Louisville, Kentucky, the ageing Bowe demonstrates his "clumpy" skipping skills and attempts to replicate one of Muhammad Ali's famous pre-fight predictions.

"Bowe comes up to meet Carver. Carver starts to retreat. If he backs up any further he'll end up in a ringside seat." The pathos of the boast is all the greater for the fact that Bowe's opponent is not only a bum who has been beaten 14 times before but is actually called Kenny Craven.

Jones is delighted with the piece and regards it as one of the finest articles GQ has published.

He is keen for contributions from good writers from outside the world of sport. There are long reads by The Sunday Times's music writer Robert Sandall on tennis star Roger Federer and by film critic John Naughton on golfer Ernie Els. Most extraordinary of all is a frank interview with former racing driver Stirling Moss on his erection problems. "I had a fairly healthy appetite for sex. So it was a real frustration," comments Moss.

One of the challenges for GQ Sport has been to explore subject matter beyond Premier League football, now the undisputed conversational topic of choice in fashionable restaurants as well as in the boozer. Jones says: "In the 15 years since Italia 90, football has spread to the middle classes. Since the injection of Sky money and the launch of the Premiership, it's far more of a socially mobile sport than it ever was before." Indeed, Rio Ferdinand, judged by GQ as the best-dressed man of the year, is on the front of May's edition of the magazine proper and Thierry Henry was the most successful cover of last year. Nevertheless, Jones thinks more marginal sports can be made more accessible through fine writing.

He acknowledges the success of The Observer's series of monthly supplements and says he believes that other favourite GQ subjects such as cars and health could all sustain "long-form" treatments.

"You could have one about fashion. Whenever The New Yorker do their style specials it's great to read 10,000-15,000 word pieces about fashion topics that don't feel the need to be illustrated. The same on food, the same on travel."

But although GQ Sport does offer a British readership the kind of format that would have been relished by some of the great American sports writers of the past, Jones is anxious not to appear out of date. Alongside the long reads he has slipped in a modern graphic on the lifestyles of Manchester United players and a colourful boys' own comic strip on the "Amazing Adventures" of cricket star "Freddie" Flintoff.

Jones says: "There's absolutely no way that I'm harking back to a so-called golden era of magazine journalism because - though a lot of it was great - a lot of it was very tedious. We are operating in the modern world and it's a very competitive world."

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