Fifty sport journalists walk into a bar.
They all happen to be women.
They all have one question they are asked more than any other.
“Do you even like sport?”
Previously, I thought I was the only one. That it was just me, constantly quizzed and queried about the latest news across every code and league — international and domestic — as though one small stumble or error was proof I didn’t know what I was talking about.
Apparently, it’s far more universal.
Recently, I travelled to the US on a fellowship with the State Department to meet other women in this crazy whirlwind of an industry.
While I never thought Australia was excessively progressive — especially its media landscape — in comparison to some of the stories I’d heard from my colleagues, we’re the Usain Bolt of equality.
Slapped. Ignored. Cut off
By comparison most of the women I was travelling with were “the first” or “the only” women in their respective newsrooms and commentary boxes.
In Australia, the likes of Debbie Spillane, Kelli Underwood and Mel Jones broke the ground I now glide across.
But most of my new friends have had to fight incessantly to be heard and taken seriously.
And while I can relate, I’ve never had my microphone turned off mid-broadcast because “women don’t commentate”, like the delegate from Bangladesh.
Unlike the woman from Nigeria, no national coach has ever turned down an interview with me because he “doesn’t talk to women”.
I’ve also never had to enclose a bikini-clad photograph of myself with my application for a World Cup posting, as my new friend from El Salvador did.
Nor have I been slapped across the face by a footballer playing for the Algerian national team because he had an issue with my publication.
In the #MeToo era, rally cries for women’s empowerment and equality are loud. And yes, they’ve been echoing in the sports media for years.
But perhaps they should be louder. More targeted. More concentrated. More veracious.
Because I met 47 women, from 47 different countries, whose voices have grown hoarse.
They are sick of being judged for the way they look.
They are beyond frustrated at having to work harder and longer than some of their male counterparts, just to be considered “credible”.
They are impatient for the presence of women in power positions.
But they are ever hopeful things can change.
How many female coaches can you name?
I have been fortunate in my career to have had both men and women lift me up and tear me down.
I have not had special treatment and I would never expect it.
We’re constantly told in Australia, “You can’t be it, if you don’t see it”. And off the back of this, we’ve seen the deserved rise and recognition of our female athletes, including most recently the FFA’s historic equal pay scheme for the Matildas and Cricket Australia’s new maternity leave policy.
The Matildas have consistently out-performed the Socceroos on the world stage. (Supplied: Paul Smith)
But how many female coaches can you name?
Now, how many of those coaches oversee traditional “men’s sports”?
It’s not only the sport journalism arena where a woman’s perceived use has a structured limit. It’s backstage, too.
There are hundreds of men and women working tirelessly behind the scenes of the biggest clubs and the largest news organisations at a national and international level.
My point is you’re likely to only know the male names.
And that’s as heartbreaking as it is frustrating. Because it’s the fans who miss out when you don’t have a diverse group of voices championing and speaking for our wide sport offering.
Remember the delegate from Malaysia
My time in America has taught me that while there is always strength in numbers, progress is slow.
There’s no easy fix.
In fact, the most rational — and infuriating — solution is time itself.
Any kind of substantive, lasting change for the women I met is reliant upon wider cultural shifts.
For instance, my friend from Sri Lanka’s latest conundrum was how to convince her boss to send her on assignments when it would cost more than her male colleagues.
Not because she needed extra time or extra resources. But because a separate security team must travel with her to ensure her personal safety. At all times.
And don’t get me started on the additional budget and time required to get women in broadcast jobs up to a “presentable” standard.
The yearning for recognition and change is nothing new — from both a professional and personal perspective. But it was bloody nice to see each woman I met had survived similar battles. We’re a resilient bunch.
So, on the bad days, no matter what gender you may be or industry you work in, remember the delegate from Malaysia.
On her first day working as a sport journalist for her newspaper, her male colleagues took bets on how long she would last.
The longest was a meagre 12 months.
I’m proud to say she’s been a thorn in their sides for 22 years. And plans on digging deeper for another 22 yet.