Charlotte Edwards and Isabelle Westbury on the challenges facing women in sport, broadcasting and journalism

What will it take for women to operate on a level playing field in sport, broadcasting and journalism?

Former England captain Charlotte Edwards and journalist Isabelle Westbury joined Sky Sports’ pundits Nasser Hussain and Rob Key on The Cricket Show for a frank and open discussion on the issues involved.

The debate came just days after BBC reporter Sonja McLaughlan revealed she was reduced to tears after online abuse was directed at her for a Six Nations interview she conducted with England rugby union captain Owen Farrell.

You can listen to the discussion in full by downloading The Cricket Show podcast now below, but here’s a flavour…

What are some of the challenges for women in sport, broadcasting and journalism?

Isabelle Westbury: “I think the main one is probably the burden that a lot of women feel being the ‘face of woman in sport and in broadcasting’ and therefore everything you do gets extrapolated and therefore if you make a mistake, every woman makes a mistake.

“It’s being able to overcome that and to be yourself, which every broadcaster wants and is told to do but I think for a woman it comes with an added layer of complexity.”

Nasser Hussain: “I think the fundamental problem is that certain people still see certain sports as men’s sports and boys’ sports. There was an occasion a couple of months ago in New Zealand when a lad was asked about an innings from a men’s player and he turned around and said ‘it was good, but it wasn’t as good as Sophie Devine’s innings’.

“I think that’s where we need to get to – where we just view a sport as a sport, as we did when we were growing up as children; we just saw it as a sport and sometimes there is still a perception out there that of ‘how dare a women comment on what is perceived as a man’s sport’.”

What will it take to change that view?

NH: “You can’t just have diversity by way of saying ‘ok, now we’ve got a women commentator’. Box ticked. Done. Diversity has to be done in all directions.

“I was really pleased to see that Charlotte is the first female PCA president – brilliant. Diversity at the top; diversity among the decision-makers in boardrooms that pass it down but also diversity through the ranks.

“Essex, for example, are trying to get more female coaches and female umpires – more females running their own cricket so that when a girl does turn up she feels that association. What you see on-screen is absolutely vital. When my daughter puts on a TV and sees Ebony Rainford-Brent on-screen she has an immediate association that cricket and girls mix.

IW: “This is where I suggest that The Hundred is a really good opportunity; we’re seeing, for the first time really in a professional sporting competition, launching the men’s and the women’s platform at the same time with the same promotion.

“What we’re also seeing is change in the people that are making the decisions; I think the ECB has said that more than 50 per cent of the team that is on The Hundred are women. So it has had a rocky start but now I think that at every stage of that decision-making, diversity is at the forefront.”

How much do you have to look after women and girls from social media criticism?

Charlotte Edwards: “We really have to look after the next generation and it’s something that I’ve been really conscious of in my role. Last year the Southern Vipers played on TV as a young group for the first time and I was a little bit nervous but they relished the opportunity and they stood up.

“We are going to have to educate and prepare girls for the criticism on social media; I think that’s part of my role with the PCA now – it’s to help players deal with those situations, use workshops on social media and even ask psychologists to help these players.”

Do you have had to have played international cricket at the highest level to commentate on it?

NH: “I think it’s ridiculous. I don’t turn up to a comms box and say ‘how many Tests have you played?’ I judge people by how they broadcast. Can they call a key moment? Have they done their research? All of us don’t tick every single box in broadcasting.

“How can I go to Australia and lecture on how to win the Ashes? I lost the Ashes in 11 days. I can still have a comment on it. I’ve never played a T20 game so does that mean I can never commentate on a T20 game?

“That’s the question on all of these things. Was Sonja (McLaughlan) called out because she was a woman or because she got that interview wrong? Was Karen Carney called out because of her comment about Leeds or because she is a woman? That’s the real crux of the matter.”

IW: “The thing that really worries me is – while it’s horrid when you get these messages in a personal and specific backlash – but it’s the wider repercussions. I almost think that Sonja went hard and robustly because she was trying to show that we can – that we’re trying to prove that we can conform to the robust image of a strong broadcaster. The problem is that women are trying so hard to conform to this ideal of being the perfect broadcaster that you lose the personality.

“When we can talk about women having their own characters and personalities in the same way that we do David Lloyd and his quirky pitch reports or Henry Blofeld and his pigeons and buses, then I think we are on the path of progress. But at the moment all we can do is talk about how professional they are because that is all we can really aim for.”

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