'Jac­qui took a bul­let for us': the women with key World Cup re­port­ing roles

The Guardian Australia - - Sport - Alexan­dra Top­ping

In 2007, when Jac­qui Oat­ley be­came Match of the Day’s first fe­male com­men­ta­tor, one tabloid news­pa­per greeted the news with the head­line “From Motty to Totty”, which the pa­per’s own foot­ball writer called “an in­sult”. The fact that a jour­nal­ist had got a new job, in a field she had worked in for years, was sud­denly front-page news.

How­ever, 11 years on, when Oat­ley ap­pears pitch­side on Thursday for the open­ing game of the World Cup be­tween Rus­sia and Saudi Ara­bia, her pres­ence won’t merely be un­sur­pris­ing – it will barely be re­mark­able.

Oat­ley is just one of many fe­male pre­sen­ters, pun­dits and com­men­ta­tors who will en­sure that more fe­male voices are heard in the UK from this World Cup than ever be­fore. On the team with Oat­ley at ITV will be the re­porter Seema Jaswal and the Eng­land striker-turned pun­dit Eniola Aluko.

On the BBC, Gabby Logan – a long­time oc­ca­sional pre­sen­ter of Match of the Day – will join Gary Lineker, while the ex­pe­ri­enced foot­ball re­porter Vicki Sparks will be­come the first woman to com­men­tate at the World Cup.

Mean­while, the for­mer Eng­land striker Kelly Smith fea­tures again for Fox Sports as a “soc­cer an­a­lyst”, and the Ar­gen­tinian jour­nal­ist Vi­viana Vila will cover the com­pe­ti­tion for the Span­ish-speak­ing US sports net­work Tele­mu­ndo De­portes.

Does any of this mat­ter? Hugely, ar­gues Anna Kes­sel, the co-founder of Women in Foot­ball, which re­cently per­suaded Twit­ter to cre­ate an emoji for the #WomeninFoot­ball hash­tag to raise the vis­i­bil­ity of women in the game. “It’s ab­so­lutely mas­sive,” she says. “One of the big­gest bar­ri­ers to women in foot­ball is this ar­chaic idea that women don’t un­der­stand the game, but view­ers are go­ing to see these in­cred­i­ble, ta­lented women who are knowl­edgable and nat­u­ral.”

“When boys and girls watch this World Cup and they see these amaz­ing women on their screens, that to­tally changes their ex­pec­ta­tions of what women can and can’t do. Blimey, that’s huge.”

Oat­ley agrees, al­though be­lieves that a cul­tural shift has re­sulted in more women in foot­ball broad­cast­ing roles, rather than the other way round. “Why would you not tap into that ex­pe­ri­ence, ex­per­tise and in­sight that those women have, es­pe­cially when you are think­ing about the di­ver­sity of your au­di­ence,” she says. “They are not all white males sit­ting on so­fas back home. Its a case of TV com­pa­nies and ra­dio re­flect­ing that, it’s not rocket science.”

Which is not to say ev­ery­one in the au­di­ence will be ap­pre­cia­tive. Threats and abuse are de­press­ingly com­mon – po­lice were forced to in­ves­ti­gate threat­en­ing let­ters sent to Oat­ley. But the ca­sual sex­ism she reg­u­larly re­ceives is more of­ten bat­ted away with san­guine smarts.

While cov­er­ing Euro 2016, a Twit­ter user sug­gested she should be at home cook­ing the din­ner, rather than pre­sent­ing foot­ball. She re­sponded: “Sorry - bit busy do­ing my dream job but I’ll make you a cus­tard pie when I get home, pet.”

Ear­lier this year she tweeted a pithy re­sponse to Ken Tom­lin­son, who had writ­ten to the Sh­effield Star to com­plain about the num­ber of women – “by at least, on some oc­ca­sions, as many as six women re­porters” – on the BBC show Fi­nal Score.

Oat­ley re­sponded: “Dear Ken, ter­ri­bly sorry to ruin your af­ter­noon but there will be 4 fe­male re­porters out of 20 on Fi­nal Score to­day (incl @sue­smith8 with 93 Eng­land caps) but, thank­fully for you, none in the stu­dio. So en­joy Ra­dio Sh­effield. Love, Jac­qui x PS most of your facts are in­cor­rect.”

But the en­vi­ron­ment for women and girls in foot­ball is im­prov­ing all the time, says Fi­nal Score and Match of the Day reg­u­lar Robyn Cowen. “Jac­qui took a bul­let for us,” she says. “I think the BBC learned from that, and they have been noth­ing but sup­port­ive to me - and hope­fully the gen­er­a­tion com­ing af­ter me will have it even bet­ter.”

Any­way, such crit­ics are swim­ming against the tide, ar­gues Oat­ley. “In an­other 10 years it will just be the norm, and we won’t be hav­ing this con­ver­sa­tion,” she says. “You’ll have men work­ing in the women’s game and women work­ing in the men’s and that’s all it will be: just foot­ball.”

Jac­qui Oat­ley has not let the oc­ca­sional sex­ist post de­tract from do­ing her dream job as a foot­ball com­men­ta­tor. Pho­to­graph: ITV

The BBC’s World Cup 2018 team in­cludes Gabby Logan (third from right) and Alex Scott (far right). Pho­to­graph: Jon Shard, Jon Enoch, Bry­ony Shear­mur/BBC

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.