These days, more than ever, it’s important to have the action of women’s sport accompanied by the right voices. Sometimes though, those voices need to be sought out, nurtured and given the right direction. For Adi Lewanavanua of Fiji, sports commentary was something she never thought would be more than a way to get a laugh.
“Commentary was something I’d joke about, sometimes on the bus back from a game,” says the former women’s senior footballer in Suva. But this week, the passionate Lewanavanua found herself behind a microphone, rattling off names varying the pitch of her voice like a pro.
In New Zealand, Sky Sport have been rightfully lauded for their efforts in promoting female commentary and presentation, but our neighbours in the Pacific face a few more challenges. Attitudes toward gender roles don’t leave much room for women to become upwardly mobile in areas like sports media.
However, the issue is being tackled by a couple of organisations right now. The Oceania Football Confederation Women’s Nations Cup kicked off in Suva last week and runs until next Sunday, with the winner progressing to a FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 qualifying event in New Zealand in February. It represents a massive opportunity for international women’s football in the region, which has suffered a two and a half year hiatus due to the pandemic.
While the OFC has provided its own female commentators from around the region to call the action, the efforts haven’t stopped there. High above the HFC Stadium turf, at the top of the grandstand, have been a collection of aspiring trainees under the guidance of the ABC Women In News and Sport (WINS) initiative. It’s been set up as a training and mentoring program that provides aspiring female journalists in the Pacific and Asia with the tools to carve out a career in sports media. The Women’s Nations Cup is an ideal setting for training to occur, with mock broadcasts having taken place during the first week of the tournament.
Half a dozen commentators from around the region were mentored by ABC veteran Peter Longman, who has over 40 years’ experience presenting and commentating. That’s long enough ago to have been when presenters in New Zealand and Australia were told to make their voices sound more “English”, so he’s happy that things have changed to a point where commentators can be themselves.
“I’m telling them to not change how they sound. The wonderful thing about this exercise is that they all sound different and that’s great. I’ve got basic rules of sports broadcasting, to player ID to variety of language, but it’s interpreted slightly differently among cultures.”
Lewanavanua’s knowledge has helped her adapt quickly to a broadcasting role, not to mention her desire to see women’s sport thrive in the Pacific.
“It’s people like us have to put on that hat, to give the commentary flavour so others come and watch these girls. They don’t know how much it has grown until you tell them and they see it. The display of football this week has been so beautiful, the knowledge of women in the Pacific needs to be expressed.”
Longman has been impressed with Lewanavanua’s progress.
“She’s an out there personality and that comes through in her broadcasting. She’s celebrating the fact that things are changing.”
Of course, this isn’t New Zealand or Australia with their state of the art stadiums and media facilities. Longman preaches the gospel of research, which also isn’t as straightforward as finding an online database when looking up information on Pacific women’s sport. But Lewanavanua says that where there’s a will, there’s a way:
“You need to just keep growing. There’s so much you can do with social media, photography, video editing. What we’ve learned this week with WINS is the concept of ‘mobile storytelling’ – getting that message out wherever you might be.”
The OFC themselves are committed to making sure games are commentated by women in the Pacific region, with Women’s Football Manager Emma Evans saying:
“It’s really important for us to have women’s games called by women from across the region. If we can provide training opportunities prior to the competition and build their confidence whilst performing at the highest level, we will see more and more women trying their hand at commentary and another pathway in football become possible for them.”
It is part of the broader ALL IN: OFC Women’s Football Strategy 2027. The comparative rates of gender-based violence are unfortunately very high, while education about matters such as sexual health are low. By giving women the opportunity in high profile roles that have always been associated with men, such as commentary and media, confidence is high that attitudes can change.
“There is knowledge of football here, but it’s a traditional perception that gets in the way,” says Lewanavanua.
“Even when girls play, it’s often seen as more important for their brothers to be getting new boots and so on. So that challenge goes all the way up.”
“We need to make sure they’re of a pretty good standard, because people round here are still getting used to the idea of female commentators,” says Longman.
“So I’m teaching them a bit about toughness…but the time has come with the growth of women’s sport that we should be matching it in media.”
Evans says that the All In strategy aims to promote female advancement in other off the field areas, like coaching and administration.
“It’s a massive opportunity given that the region is co-hosting the World Cup next year. We want all girls and women in the Pacific to be inspired by what will be an amazing occasion, and it’s great that the winner of the Women’s Nations Cup will fly the flag for the region in the qualifying tournament.”
“I want to be sitting at home in a few years and watching a game of rugby or football between Tonga and Samoa and hearing female commentators and experts. I don’t want to be hearing the same voices we’ve always had,” says Longman.
For Lewanavanua, her goal is to one day be behind the mic at a FIFA Women’s World Cup.
“The World Cup next year is only a three hour flight away for me. Given the opportunity I’d grab it with both hands.”