'Pity she doesn’t know anything about football'

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.

36 comments

  • true equality will be when we have a male netball reporter .

    Commenter
    numbat2469
    Location
    numbatsville
    Date and time
    June 10, 2014, 12:42AM
    • I'm pleased Warren Ryan didn't say this on our ABC.

      Commenter
      Mankad
      Location
      Up in Palmerland ?
      Date and time
      June 10, 2014, 8:43AM
      • Comments on appearance are not only directed at women (ask Bosnich).

        Commenter
        ifonly
        Location
        sydney
        Date and time
        June 10, 2014, 9:09AM
        • I don't have the vaguest understanding of sport but I really enjoy your presentation on SBS, Lucy, simply because your personality is so magnetic - and it shines through!

          Commenter
          Cam
          Location
          Sydney
          Date and time
          June 10, 2014, 9:13AM
          • Looking forward to your analysis of the nuances of Germany's pressing game or the merit of this new 'quaterback' buzz word floating around the game the past few months.

            I think you should team up with Amy Lawrence and Kay Murray to create an all woman panel. Really give the boys a run for their money.

            Commenter
            Dman
            Location
            Penrifff
            Date and time
            June 10, 2014, 9:42AM
            • Call me sexist, but I have never found female commentators and sports presentors as engaging as male. They don't convey the same sense of passion and engagement. Simple as that. Am I wrong for feeling the way I do?

              Commenter
              googley
              Date and time
              June 10, 2014, 9:52AM
              • All depends if you want intelligent, well thought out and articulate commentary or not!.....the antithesis of NRL

                Commenter
                Lou
                Location
                Sydney
                Date and time
                June 10, 2014, 2:36PM
              • No. Fact of the matter is that not everyone can cut it and while it may be an issue to some, to me, gender doesn't come into it. Listen to the AFL broadcasts on 6PR Perth and 5AA Adelaide and you'll hear commentary that is about as biased and poor as it gets. If the respective radio stations put a microphone out in the cheer squad you would hear better commentary.

                Commenter
                Kev
                Date and time
                June 10, 2014, 3:00PM
            • The problem comes from the fact a lot of blokes like ex players to be the commentators because of their inside knowledge of the game. When you see female commentators (who all seem to very attractive, it is tv after all) there is an element of jealousy in the fact sport commentator is the ultimate for a lot of boof head blokes like myself. Getting paid to be opinated, watch sports and socialise afterwards. perfection lot better than sitting at a desk doing data entry

              Commenter
              kellybellyfonte
              Date and time
              June 10, 2014, 10:12AM
              • Delighted to see they've changed the headline in the article itself to football. Football is a game that rightfully and fantastically includes both sexes in its playing numbers. It's a wholly inclusive sport and one that true followers in their ever growing numbers consider on the merits of knowledge of the game itself only. I don't care if you are a man or a woman when you analyse the game. Intelligent insight is the only requirement for me. We'll leave the neanderthals and the "soccer for wogs etc" commentators/media supporters to the other sports. There's plenty of space over there for those folks to keep with their age old cliches about our game. Keep up the good work Lucy.

                Commenter
                Alan
                Location
                Sydney
                Date and time
                June 10, 2014, 10:16AM

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