6 January 2023

It’s taken a while but finally women sports broadcasters are seen as mainstream

| Tim Gavel
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Tim Gavel's bird's eye view from the commentary box

Ball-by-ball sports commentary has historically been the domain of men. Photo: Lachlan Roberts.

For as long as most of us can remember, the sound of summer was very much a male domain. The radio or television voices we heard giving a ball-by-ball description of cricket were exclusively those of men.

You can imagine some of those from yesteryear shifting uncomfortably in their broadcasting positions if they were around in the current day.

The reason for this discomfort is the noticeable shift in the composition of broadcasting teams on both radio and television.

Women, such as former England cricket all-rounder Isa Guha, Lisa Sthalekar, Mel Jones and Alison Mitchell, have taken cricket coverage to a new level.

Lisa Sthalekar

Lisa Sthalekar. Photo: Facebook.

Admittedly it has taken a while for women to be accepted as ball-by-ball commentators, with plenty of hurdles placed in their way. Yet it is happening, and the commentary provided by these and other knowledgeable women has brought a new perspective and appeal to the sport experience.

Being a long-time sports broadcaster myself, I have witnessed first-hand the arguments presented as reasons why women couldn’t be ball-by-ball commentators. All these arguments have been firmly settled.

Women for many years were pigeonholed as hosts of panels and broadcasts, but the introduction of women as commentators and experts is a recent phenomenon.

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The main argument presented time and time again for their exclusion was a presumed lack of audience acceptance of a female voice commentating ball-by-ball.

The other hurdle for women was to overcome the perception that they knew less about sport than men.

At first, women were confined to talking about women’s sport before apparently being deemed worthy of commentating on male sports.

Women are lead commentators in various women’s sports, including netball and AFLW, and we are now starting to hear women broadcasting across a range of male sports such as the AFL with Kelli Underwood and rugby union in New Zealand with Rikki Swannell. We are yet to see women commentating on the NRL at a mainstream level.

Rikki Swannell interviewing Sam Charlton

Rikki Swannell interviewing Sam Charlton. Photo: Facebook.

The next glass ceiling to be shattered should be when we see women commentating on the Olympic 100 metres on the track.

The main resistance to women becoming sports commentators, I believe, has come from those in the older demographic.

Kelly Underwood

Best on ground: Kelli Underwood is a highlight of the ABC’s AFL coverage. Photo: ABC.

Those perceived barriers are hopefully a thing of the past and women seeking to become sports broadcasters can do so on an even playing field. In so doing, a further opportunity for women who love sport becomes mainstream, and the current generation of women commentators can influence a larger cohort in the future.

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The best people in a job are those most motivated and most skilled, no matter their gender. With sports commentary, there is no logical reason that one gender would be better than another, as it is about knowledge and communication skills, things that are learned, not innate. They do not require greater physical size or strength. Those who are sufficiently motivated and who have the time to learn the sport as well as the skills should do well, no matter what their gender.

Intellect and strategy are often more important to success in sport than physical strength, depending on the sport, so gender is less relevant than was previously considered by many big men who got by on their size. As all sports have become more professional, everyone has to work harder with bulk being of less value than brains, hard work, focus, training and determination.

When more time and money is invested in women in sport so they can focus on building their skills instead of trying to juggle their full time jobs, along with most of the parenting and domestic responsibilities, we may be able to compare genders based on similar conditions. Although, I have no idea why there’s a desire to compare genders, when what’s more important is the differences between individuals.

Trevor Willis2:41 pm 08 Jan 23

Tim Gavel has written a few articles concerning women’s sport and they are all reasonable from a woman’s point of view. Women are well and truly entrenched in most sports and are making a good fist of it. However, Mother Nature has created men as being much stronger than women and in most sports a mens team will always beat a woman’s team and there is no denying that. I also think this relates to sports commentators where women may know facts and figures, men seem to make the game more entertaining and listenable.

Lets hope they improve the standard. The majority of male sports broadcasters are pretty poor. I reckon there are maybe only 2 good cricket, AFL & RL commentators.

You mean Roy & HG?

Capital Retro4:49 pm 08 Jan 23

Never heard of them. They sound like non-binary rappers on the ABC?

SigmaOctantis8:55 am 08 Jan 23

How is this in any way of any importance to anyone?

Really? You cannot see how it may be important to some people? Sport is part of many people’s lives and careers, as well as their leisure time, their social activity and the development of physical skills and fitness, as well as spatial, strategic, communication, social and other intellectual skills. Teamwork is often first learned by children through sport, whilst sports commentating is about communicating that information to others.

Or were you talking about the gender issue? That is about equity and recognition of skills no matter what the gender. Our society is progressing on equity and that is of prime importance to many people. Perhaps not to you?

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