Fiona Fernandez: You go, girl

Flashback time. The first job as a sports journalist. Naturally, each day felt like walking into the bullring. “Head to the BHA Mahindra hockey stadium to cover an inter-bank tourney,” thundered my sports editor, in his gentle-giantesque tone. “You’ll be fine; ask around and it’ll be a breeze,” his words calmed the nerves. As I entered the venue, an attendant approached me, “There’s a better view from the far end of the stands to cheer your team.” My jaw dropped. “Err…I am reporter; where is the press box?” I asked. Now, it was the turn of the podgy gentleman’s jaw to drop. “Oh. You’re a girl; you don’t look like a sports reporter,” he uttered.

It was one incident. But it was to be a precursor of things as one negotiated the bumpy ride as a woman sports journalist for the next few years. From swimming to athletics, billiards to tennis, the mindset of sportsmen towards women reporters wasn’t convincing. Is it possible for a woman to follow sport, let alone cover it in depth, and across disciplines? So, when Chris Gayle’s episode surfaced, it was no surprise. Agreed, the West Indian cricketer’s behavior with the woman media person was a far cry from what I had experienced, but we hit rewind mode to the early 2000s.

Long waits for interviews would get longer, snide remarks and taunts from sportsmen about one’s lack of knowledge (“You wouldn’t know the difference between centre forward and right wing?”), bias and bonhomie with male sports reporters, a general laidback attitude towards the interviewer or the assumption that it would be a candy-flossy, ‘soft’ story — we had seen it all. “Ask me fun questions only!” a now retired, big-hitting Indian cricketer had requested before an interview. He didn’t get any.

One lesson had been learnt — it’s tough, and doubly challenging for a woman sports journalist. Now, with TV and social media, it’s encouraging to see more women in the forefront. But one of its fall outs is the glam-doll effect, where a looker could equate to ‘open’. So if you’ve caught someone’s fancy, as what happened in last week’s incident, and probably what’s been happening across sporting arenas, such requests can be expected. The bigger the name, the more blasé; we’d hear seniors share stories in the newsroom. Extra kudos to Mel McLaughlin for speaking up, thereby ensuring that Gayle pays the price.

One hopes that such episodes relay and reiterate that women in sports mean business, are equal and here for the long haul. Bring it on!

mid-day’s Features Editor Fiona Fernandez relishes the city’s sights, sounds, smells and stones...wherever the ink and the inclination takes her. She tweets @bombayana. Send your feedback to mailbag @mid-day.com

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