Sky the limit for fe­male com­men­ta­tors

When will a woman get to com­men­tate an All Blacks test or Su­per Rugby game?


New Zealand rugby has in re­cent years made ad­mirable progress on the long path to­wards gen­der equal­ity.

From the Black Ferns sev­ens team eclips­ing the ef­forts of their male coun­ter­parts to Farah Palmer be­com­ing the first woman elected to the board of the game’s gov­ern­ing body, rugby in this coun­try is grad­u­ally edg­ing out of the dark ages.

But there is an­other fron­tier yet to cross, one that right now feels as far away as the de­cline of the Bar­rett broth­ers.

When will a woman com­men­tate an All Blacks test? Or even a Su­per Rugby game?

While it’s not un­com­mon for both gen­ders to be rep­re­sented on the side­lines or in pre- and post- match shows, for how long will the com­men­tary box re­main a boys’ club?

This week, ESPN an­nounced that Beth Mowins will soon be­come the first woman in 30 years to han­dle playby- play du­ties for an NFL game, a sport as closely aligned to Amer­ica’s pa­tri­archy as rugby has tra­di­tion­ally been to ours.

Stay­ing in the United States, Jes­sica Men­doza has this sea­son fea­tured as a chief an­a­lyst in ESPN’s base­ball cov­er­age, while cricket around the globe has po­si­tioned it­self at the fore­front in the fight for gen­der equal­ity in the broad­cast booth.

And that’s what it is: a fight. Un­til young women can look at all as­pects of sport and see an open ca­reer av­enue, it re­mains a scrap that a pro­gres­sive so­ci­ety shouldn’t ig­nore.

On the field, we are creep­ing closer to an ideal, aside from the ob­vi­ous dis­par­ity in re­mu­ner­a­tion and, of course, the oc­ca­sional in­stance of male play­ers treat­ing women ab­hor­rently.

Off the field, though, it’s a dif­fer­ent story, es­pe­cially in this coun­try. Just con­sider the fact that Sky Tele­vi­sion — the com­pany with a mo­nop­oly on top- level sport — re­tain no women in full- time on- air roles.

Melodie Robin­son is a reg­u­lar pres­ence on the fringes of our rugby broad­casts, while Rikki Swan­nell last sum­mer be­came the first woman to lead the com­men­tary of a men’s cricket game in New Zealand.

But both are em­ployed as free­lancers, an os­ten­si­ble short­fall in sport re­strict­ing their du­ties, de­spite Robin­son also work­ing in net­ball and Swan­nell across a panoply of codes.

The ques­tion, then, is why? It can’t be a case of ath­letic prow­ess be­ing a pre­req­ui­site; an abun­dance of for­mer Black Ferns or White Ferns must tick that box. In any case, play- by- play men like Grant Nis­bett and Tony John­son have be­come house­hold voices with­out first mak­ing their name in the mid­dle.

Think a fe­male voice would see fans reach for the re­mote? Well, a small prob­lem: there’s one place to watch rugby and nowhere else to turn. And, to be hon­est, mod­ern sport is prob­a­bly bet­ter off with­out sup­port­ers who choose that par­tic­u­lar hill to die on.

Away from rugby, it hardly seems this year’s In­dian Premier League has suf­fered af­ter fea­tur­ing three women in its com­men­tary team, or that the BBC was hurt by mak­ing Ali­son Mitchell the first woman to com­men­tate reg­u­larly on Test Match Spe­cial.

So if there is no co­gent ar­gu­ment to keep the com­men­tary box ma­le­only, and if there are plenty of qual­i­fied can­di­dates who pos­sess plenty of pas­sion and knowl­edge, per­haps Sky would be wise to de­clare it­self in favour of progress and try some­thing new

etrac­tors may in­sist the busi­ness of broad­cast­ing rugby, like any other, is a mer­i­toc­racy, and to an ex­tent that is true. But when an in­dus­try has for so long been dom­i­nated by men, af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion can be re­quired to crack the glass ceil­ing.

New Zealand has never been a stranger to break­ing bound­aries in rugby. It’s time for that to ex­tend out­side the lines.

Pic­ture / AP

Beth Mowins will be­come the first woman to call an NFL game.

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