The 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup officially kicked off on Thursday, with 32 national teams descending on Australia and New Zealand to compete for the sport’s ultimate prize. Unlike in past years, all eyes in Brazil are on the competition.
But what about the women journalists covering the World Cup, and women sports journalists in general? Has progress been made with regard to the representation of women in sports journalism? Can the World Cup help speed up positive change?
Brazilian media is covering the World Cup this year like it never has before. Similarly, the Brazilian national team’s appearance in this year’s World Cup has been deemed historic by the Brazilian Soccer Confederation, prompting notable changes. The team, for instance, trained at the Granja Comary football complex – where the men’s team traditionally trains – ahead of the World Cup, they will be wearing newly designed jerseys, and they now have dedicated personnel assisting them with health and performance.
While there has been growth in women's representation in sports journalism, it has come with its share of struggles, explained journalist Vanessa Riche. "It has been painstaking work, kickstarted by the first female announcers,” she said.
Riche has come a long way to improve this situation. In 2002, she was invited to take part in pilot projects to work on the Men's World Cup coverage. "We did all the tests in secret because the idea was to launch a female announcer in a soccer match. Just look at how long it has taken for us to be where we are now."
For the 2018 Men's World Cup, Riche created a training program for women commentators, attracting nearly 300 applicants. "When FOX Sports and TNT launched the program, all the other stations felt obligated to have female announcers. But only in 2021, when Renata Silveira, one of my trainees during the program, became an announcer at TV Globo, were we able to actually establish a female voice in soccer matches."
Riche recalls the hardships faced during her coverage of the 2018 Men’s World Cup. "We would get comments devaluing our work, like: 'well, you kind of get the game,' and 'we're not used to your voice.'"
Although some progress has been made, there remains a culture around sports that is hard to get through. "Women have not had a place secured in sports journalism,” said Riche.
Progress in Brazilian soccer
Progress is also being realized within Brazilian soccer clubs themselves, which now have women’s teams competing in national tournaments.
Today, a woman named Laura Zago is the Brazilian Soccer Confederation’s press agent, working on all matters related to the Women's World Cup. She believes that this is the moment for women to consolidate their place in the field.
"Clearly we don’t have the numbers yet that we'd like, but there are some women at very stable positions in the market," said Zago, adding that these changes can inspire young women journalists and journalism students.
With more representation, they will feel encouraged to start a career in the sports market, she added: "There’s no going back. It's time to pave the way for the women who are coming next."
Planning for a Women's World Cup in Brazil
Former professional soccer player Rachel Motta, who played for Madureira, a soccer club in Rio de Janeiro, retired from the sport to pursue a career in media. Today, she is a journalist and sports commentator.
"One of the strategies for developing women’s soccer is the work that has been made by the Sports Ministry. They are mapping the primary needs, from preparation, the fields and professionalization, to the players and staff," said Motta.
She added that FIFA is looking at all investments being made in women’s soccer. The developments in Brazil have been realized with an eye toward making it the host country of the 2027 Women's World Cup.
"It's not only about where you play and why you play, but also what is done to make women's soccer possible," said Motta.
Women reporters and announcers are gaining ground in sports journalism, and as a result the media is paying more attention to women’s sports.
"There is an audience for this market and outlets are finally realizing it," said Riche. "TV Globo broke several viewing records by airing the female National League and Libertadores Cup finals."
She also noted how women's soccer is occupying new spaces in media. One example is Casé TV, one of the most popular YouTube channels in Brazil today, which will be covering the World Cup.
Luiza Sá, a journalist at UOL who is reporting on this year’s World Cup in person, has been covering the Brazilian national team’s training at Granja Comary. She noted a large presence of women journalists compared to their male counterparts, including at the press conference where the Brazilian roster was announced.
"There is still a lot to do to gain ground, because media outlets don't pay attention to women's soccer as they do with men's soccer. The number of professionals sent to [women’s sports event] coverage is way smaller," said Sá. "But I believe that we made a lot of progress, and we expect that more women will be working in [sports] media coverage. At the press conference where the roster was announced, most of the questions were asked by women."
No going back
Women telling the stories of other women is key because they look at things differently, said Sá: "Now we have the opportunity to tell our story. It's still a long way, but I see significant progress. There is no going back. We got in, secured our place, and we are not going away – ever."
Women don't want to turn sports journalism into a bubble just for themselves, added Riche.
"We want to be respected and have more women being a part of it. All of this is related to what is happening to the Brazilian team, to the hiring of coach Pia Sundhage, to not labeling the players as 'poor girls,'" she said. "The investors are showing up, too. When we look back, we can see the growth. But now we have to ask: how much time until we have a woman as the director of a sports broadcast?"
Photo courtesy of Vanessa Riche, Luiza Sá, Rachel Motta, Laura Zago and by Celso Pupo.
This article was originally published on IJNet Portuguese and translated by Priscila Brito.