Authors: Rio Sports
Channel Nine last week announced that “Australia’s favourite voices of the summer” would commentate the 2017-18 Ashes series. According to Nine, they are: Bill Lawry, Ian Healy, Michael Slater, Mark Taylor, Ian Chappell, Michael Clarke and Shane Warne (with Michael Vaughan and Kevin Pietersen to appear later to make up the English component of the team). The Englishman Mark Nicholas will anchor.
In case the monotony isn’t evident upon reading, Wide World of Sports helpfully posted a photo on social media of the eight white men in various shades of blue and black suits. Unsurprisingly, the photo went on to draw the ire of an especially acerbic Twitter audience.
There are a host of highly-qualified, popular women who commentate and have successfully navigated both women’s and men’s cricket. They include, but are not limited to, Mel Jones, Lisa Sthalekar, Alison Mitchell, Charlotte Edwards, Ebony-Jewel Rainford-Brent and Isa Guha.
Jones and Sthalekar are established expert commentators and former Australian cricketers (Sthalekar a former captain), Mitchell is a one-time Sports Journalism Association Broadcaster of the Year, Edwards is a former England women’s cricket captain, commentator and coach with the Adelaide Strikers, and Guha and Rainford-Brent are former English cricketers. Additionally, Rainford-Brent was the first black woman to play for England, while Guha is of Bengali descent, Jones is of West Indian descent and Sthalekar is Indian-born.
In other words, all of these women bring extensive experience in playing and analysing the game, while they are also culturally and ethnically diverse.
Cleverly, Jones and Sthalker have been snapped up by ABC Grandstand, while Guha will represent Triple M, Mitchell BT Sport, ABC and the BBC and Rainford-Brent the BBC. These broadcasters are slowly but surely moving with the times. Even if those arrangements had been made prior to any approach from Nine, Edwards (among others) was likely also available. Some may argue that Channel Nine has only used commentators from the touring side’s home country – Waqar Zaka has, for example, commentated Pakistan Tests and Ian Smith New Zealand’s – but all these women also meet that unspoken policy. Nine is now an outlier persisting with a line-up that is out of touch with public perception .
To put aside for the moment the question of gender, however, it is worth considering how much more diverse the commentary team could be if that unspoken policy was also reviewed. Then, names like the popular Michael Holding (former West Indies player ) or Harsha Bhogle (who has recently returned to the commentary box) might also be considered. At the very least, Holding and Bhogle would provide some international perspective on one of cricket’s oldest and most enthralling rivalries.
Perhaps one of the most disappointing aspects of retaining the same old team is that, together, they churn out what fans have come to expect from white Australian blokes talking sport – a particular brand of middle-aged male banter that has been described as the stuff of “embarrassing dads”.
Yet this isn’t as harmless as an “embarrassing dad”. It’s the stuff that defines the culture of sport in Australia; a space where white men feel entitled to be as offensive and hilarious as they like, since they rarely, if ever, hold each other to account. And so, since it should never be the job of a minority to hold others to account for their poor behaviour (as Audre Lorde would say), would a woman or non-white commentator want to participate in a white, male dominated line-up anyway?
Take Melbourne sports radio station SEN, for example. On Monday morning, Andy Maher took to breakfast radio to say he was “stunned” by the public backlash to WWOS’s photo on Twitter. The panel then proceeded to defend Nine’s retention of the same men, before taking calls in the same vein.
“These guys have been around for a long time and that’s a strength of any commentary team. You’ve got a familiarity and you work well together,” said Maher.
But it’s precisely familiarity that is the problem – that’s usually a good sign that various forms of privilege are going unchecked. This is the same radio station that currently boasts 15 white men in its AFL commentary team.
The composition of “expert” panels like these speaks of a clear disconnect between those who are given the platform and professional opportunities to analyse, and those who consume Australian sports. Like AFL, cricket is as obsessively followed by women as it is men. More than one million women say they “almost always” watch Test and ODI cricket on TV. It stands to reason that those same women would like some representation on screen – for the sport they love to reflect the diversity of those who watch and, (thanks to significant improvement in investment in women’s cricket) in increasing numbers play it.
It is incumbent on those who say they support women’s sport to also get serious about providing professional opportunities for women involved in those same sports. This is particularly important to the increased professionalisation of the women’s game, but also to redress the gendered imbalance that pervades Australia’s favourite sports.
Channel Nine has covered the women’s Ashes series – a closely-fought, captivating campaign closed out by the Australians after the first T20 at North Sydney Oval.
So far, the Women’s Ashes has over 4.1 million minutes watched worldwide, over three million video views on social media (with Ellyse Perry’s double century accounting for over a million views alone) and 236,068 broadcast views. These are promising figures given women’s cricket is yet to capture the nation’s attention in the same way as some other women’s sport.
If Nine is serious about growing women’s cricket, then it must capitalise on this interest to also enable the professional endeavours of women who are so passionate and knowledgable about the game. The social media reaction to Nine’s “meet our team” post show that the public is more than ready to listen to diverse voices.
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