SBS football commentator Lucy Zelic.

SBS football commentator: Lucy Zelic.

The laws of the game, strategies of play, players by first and last name, knowledge of both the domestic and foreign football leagues are just brief snapshots of my capabilities. I am an A-League football reporter, sports presenter for SBS World News and incumbent match-host of the 2014 World Cup coverage in Australia. I thrive in a sport that is known as the most popular and highly played across the planet – and I am a woman. 

The reality of ‘living in a man’s world’ is one that women in sports media have grappled with for generations. Despite the growing inclusion of female presenters across a series of male-dominant codes, it still hasn’t managed to shake the dusty tag of sexism and misogyny.

In my short time in the television industry, I’ve been incredibly fortunate not to experience sexism from ‘the inside.’ In what is most certainly a rare situation to be in, I feel blessed that my SBS colleagues embraced me from the moment I stepped foot inside the building. I walked in there expecting to be treated like an equal and I am. I never thought of myself as different and they’ve never treated me like a woman and by that, I mean different. That level of respect has extended to those in the industry, right down to the footballers on the pitch.

So if it’s not my colleagues and the men whose personal and professional lives I place under the microscope, then who is it?

The beauty and beast that is social media witnesses some of the most atrocious attacks on women in sports media played out across public platforms. In my role, I am subjected to comments about my appearance, cop criticism suggesting that I ‘know nothing about football’ and that I am ‘riding on the coattails of my brother’s success’.

Despite holding a journalism degree and major in sports business, plus the years of accumulated sports knowledge I have under my belt, I am still regarded as ‘the woman’ to some fans of the game.  

In 2007, female sports presenter, Stephanie Brantz openly commented about the fact that Channel Nine were ‘not quite sure what to do with a woman in sport’, following her axing from the cricket commentary. Her allegations that she was told by management that the ‘Australian Cricketers didn’t want to be interviewed by her’ made headlines. Although her comments were ruled to be unfounded, the incident fed into a discussion that has been dominating women’s involvement in sport for years.

What frustrates me is that these isolated incidences have been the ‘highlight’ of our presence in the media, with the exceptional work that is being done often taking a backseat.

To succeed in this industry, you have to live, love and breathe what you’re passionate about. It’s the only saving grace on days where you’re feeling especially vulnerable and don’t want to get out of bed because of something you’ve read, that someone has said. In the interest of survival, I have actively made the decision not to let the comments or the criticisms become the focus of my career. My passion dates back to six years of age, kicking a football around with one brother in the backyard and watching the other play for the Socceroos. But it’s a story I’ve told time and time again because almost everyone seems to want to know; ‘why, why, why?’

At a function held in aid of the Johnny Warren foundation some weeks ago, renowned ABC journalist and a woman I respect enormously, Debbie Spillane, summed it up perfectly. ‘I feel like just because I am a woman, I have to justify my appreciation of the game.’   

It’s an argument that women across all sports mediums can attest to having had at least a dozen times in their career. 

I have dealt with questions like ‘now that your career is just getting started, have you accepted that you’ll probably have kids and settle down later in life?’ Rather than take offence, I smiled wryly and said; ‘I am not sure, I’ve never dedicated any thought to it. But let’s talk about why you have?’ My view has always been, if you want to know ‘why I chose sports media’, then I want to know why you’re asking the question. This no longer makes the ‘problem’ mine to answer to; rather, it’s now yours to defend. If we change the conversations, we can change the perceptions.   

Making the news recently though, are things we have cause to celebrate. Helena Costa was announced as the first woman to coach a men’s professional football team in any major European league – ever.    

In the wake of the news that tennis player Andy Murray is seeking a new coach, the Daily Mail in the UK reported that he is considering both male and female coaches.  He labeled the reaction to him considering a woman as ‘silly’.

And, just this week, Peta Searle was announced as a development coach for St Kilda, the first woman to take on such a position in AFL history.

It’s advancements like these and my own self-belief that make me feel like I no longer feel the need to defend my love for the game or my existence in the media. Giving the ‘haters’ airtime only allows the debate about sexism in sport an opportunity to overshadow the good that is being done. What keeps me here is the love I have for what I do and that, my friends and foes, takes a back seat to no one. If we are told never to judge a book by its cover, then never a judge a woman in sport – you never know just how far she’ll outrun you, even in heels.  

 

The 2014 FIFA World Cup BrazilTM is LIVE and EXCLUSIVE, with every match on SBS From 13 June - 14 July.