Jnderrepresented in Sport Media
With the massive influx of new media houses, comes the need for sports journalists. However, female members of the profession have not grown in similar fashion due to several factors. From specific issues like not being able to enter changing rooms for interviews to stereotypes that a woman’s place is not in stadiums, women are facing challenges to enter and stay in the sports journalism field. The few current actors in the field have a duty to change this, as Abiy Wendifraw explores.
Many assume sport journalism is easy and fun. It is all about watching games in colorful stadiums, sitting among sport fans, speaking with icons, travelling the world, and appearing on TV screens in standard suit-and-tie. While these could be considered as perks one might enjoy from working in the profession, they are a major source of challenges to some. These challenges and other unwelcoming issues in sport journalism seem to keep females away from the profession.
According to statistics from the Ethiopian Sports Journalists Association (ESJA), only five percent of its just over 200 members are female. “Following the expansion of media outlets in radio and television, the number of sport journalists grew by perhaps as much as 10-fold. But, relatively, the number of female sport journalists is growing at a slower rate,” says Hana Gebreselassie, the former Vice President of the Association.
For any domestic sport lover, naming the country’s top journalists through the generations might not be difficult. Fikru Kidane, Solomon Tessema, Abebe Tekletsadik, Yiberberu Mitike, Tsega Kumilachew, Demissie Damte, Gorfineh Yimer, Solomon Gebregziabher, and few others would come to mind. It is an all men’s list.
But even Fikru Kidane, the first sport journalist in Ethiopia, struggles to remember a female sport reporter back then. “There was no lady journalist until recently,” said the 85-year-old veteran. But Fikru argues Ethiopia is not the exception. “In general, there are few women journalists in the world specialized in sports. There are more in politics, social affairs, and the environment. The French daily sports paper, L’Équipe, has three or four journalists who are highly qualified in football. Others cover gymnastics, swimming, winter sports, and the like. I believe we need women in every field.”
“Forget about having more women here. Keeping those in the profession is a challenge,” says Konjit Teshome, Radio Host, with over a decade of experience. “The challenge begins from the media organization you work for. The way they recruit a sport reporter and evaluate them is questionable. They value men for the job because reporting on sport demands a person who can go to any event at any time.” But the problem does not end there. Even after convincing the employers to take the job, they struggle to be treated fairly during assignments. “Sometimes editors try to keep us in the office, thinking they are doing good by shielding us women reporters from the hassles out there. The fact is that we can never be good journalists without the exposure.”
The role of female sport presenters in media is not a veiled matter. “Our role tends to be as a moderator rather than the setting of agenda or bringing out subjects for discussion. People also perceive the role of a woman sport journalist to be as an assistor and facilitator of a program instead of a producer or host,” says Hana.
Their treatment is even harsher outside of the newsroom. Societal pressure is always there. “Stereotypes and discrimination follow you all the way. There are people who think women cannot really understand sports. Others think being at stadiums takes away from the ‘natural womanly charm’. “Not just stadiums, I used to even struggle to go to houses where European football is televised live. But now it’s all getting better with the growth in the number of women getting involved in the profession as well as women fans coming to stadiums,” she added.
As local stadiums are turning into places where fights between fans suddenly break out, the job is riskier for those involved. “Even sitting at Tribune (grandstand) is not very safe at times. Some angry fans seated meters away can target you easily,” says Konjit. Finding footballers or coaches for flash interviews immediately after a game is another challenge specific to females. When their male colleagues chase the stars into dressing rooms, the ladies can only stay outside hoping to share what others recorded.
“Arranging interviews outside the studio is tough. You do not know where the interviewee wants you to come, and what time is preferred by him. It will not bother male colleagues if it is late at night, even in a hotel room. Managing this will always be a headache,” says Hana. Further, having family and kids complicates the job even more as you are required to travel to attend sport events.
Konjit remembers what happened to a friend who had prepared to interview a famous footballer. He agreed to be interviewed and everything was prepared by her. At the last minutes he changed his mind. The reason? He did not know that he was going to be interviewed by a female which he said is forbidden by his religion.
“Sometimes editors try to use us. They tell us to phone a sportsperson who previously rejected an interview. Other times, I interview a person known for avoiding media and many struggle to give due credit claiming it was only possible because I am a woman. That is sad.”
Because of these and other issues some leave the profession or change their specialization. If this is to change, women currently in the profession have a huge responsibility, according to Hana. “We should exercise sport journalism at a better capacity and integrity. If more women who really love sport join in, we can deliver.”
Konjit agrees. “Quitting should not be an option. I did not have a role model when I entered this profession. Now I have the responsibility to be one for young female sport journalists arriving in the industry.” EBR
9th Year • Mar.16 – Apr.15 2020 • No. 84