….A BREATH OF FRESH AIR-
AS ANYONE IS BETTER THAN THE OLD GUARD
Younger and more diverse: TV’s team of pundits now reflect their game
Line-up of presenters, which includes female and black ex-players, mirrors football’s changing makeup
England’s footballers have come a long way since they were embarrassed by losing to Iceland in 2016. And so have the broadcasters.
The rosters of presenters, analysts and commentators at ITV and the BBC are markedly more diverse than they were five years ago. Of the 23 people that ITV announced as part of its on-air team for the tournament in France then, only two were women – Jacqui Oatley and Eni Aluko – and five were from ethnic minorities. This time, the team of 31 includes seven women and 14 people of colour.
The BBC has also sharpened up. Three women – Gabby Logan, Kelly Cates and Caroline Barker, all presenters – and five people of colour were among the 40 it announced would be covering Euro 2016 for national TV and radio. Now there are nine women, working in every role available, and 10 with a minority ethnic background out of 45.
“This is really overdue,” said Genelle Aldred, the author of Communicate for Change and a committee member of Women In Journalism. “We’re really pleased to see it and we welcome it. But we’d also welcome greater representation across the board as well.”
Katie Bailiff, the chief executive of Women in Film and Television, said: “Things are starting to move in the right direction. But I can’t quite bring myself to backslap or holla and whoop just yet. We are after all in 2021 and over half the population are, in fact, women.”
It may seem obvious to some that the TV panels and commentary teams should be diverse. When Alex Scott, who won 140 caps for England and has a runner’s-up medal from the 2009 European championships, talks about the pressure of big games, she is clearly talking from experience.
Yet the picture was radically different a decade ago. Football was almost entirely male-dominated, a fact underlined when tapes were leaked of Andy Gray and Richard Keys making lewd comments about assistant referee Sian Massey in 2011.
The following year, only Gabby Logan was involved in coverage, as a roving reporter at the England camp for the BBC, and when the broadcasters were asked at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil whether a woman might ever be a pundit, the response was that only those with direct experience of the sport could analyse the game. Later that year, Aluko – 102 England caps and 18 goals – was invited on Match of the Day, the first female pundit on the show, and then worked as an analyst for ITV during Euro 2016.
“Hopefully by breaking new ground, it won’t seem like such a big deal for other players to be hired in the same way, and it won’t be too long before women appear on football shows on a weekly basis,” she said at the time.
Lucy Ward, a former Leeds United striker, said that Scott and Aluko had enabled other women to work in the men’s game – Ward was co-commentator on several Premier League games for the first time last season on Amazon Prime and BT Sport.
“I was a good player, but I didn’t get 100 caps for England,” she said. “Quite a lot of people who don’t know me would go ‘and?’ Those women blazed the trail for someone like me.”
Ward began her TV career in 2007 at the Women’s World Cup in China after a conversation with former BBC Sport editor Lance Hardy. She believes the change was wider than just with broadcasters, with decisions by clubs such as Manchester City to treat women’s football on a par with the men’s game creating a vital change in culture. “When you go to the Etihad, you see pictures of the women’s team up there. If they win a cup, their picture goes up alongside Agüero and de Bruyne – it slowly changes attitudes of the majority of people.”