Breaking the glass ceiling in sports commentary

UNESCO is pleased to make the audio and text of this interview available copyright-free for the celebration of World Radio Day 2018. Radio stations are especially encouraged to broadcast the interview, either in its totality or by extracting the answers and announcing the questions themselves.

Lisa Sthalekar played 187 cricket matches for Australia between 2001-2013 and established herself as one of the world's premier all-rounders. She then turned to the commentary box to become one of the sport's most well-known voices. One of her generation's most watchable players, she shares her experiences with us for World Radio Day 2018.

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Do you remember your first day in the commentary box?

Yeah I do. It was on radio, covering the Big Bash League in just 3 hours and it was quite a daunting experience. I wasn’t quite sure about this whole new industry. You think that you have played the game and you can easily step into the commentary box. I can tell you for fact that it’s a lot harder than that. The first opportunity for me to commentate on men's cricket was actually the IPL at Eden Gardens [in Kolkata], with about 65,000 fans screaming at [Indian Cricketer] Gautam Gambhir when I was asking him questions. 

Commentary in the majority of sports is dominated by men and same is true for cricket as well. How was it like breaching or breaking into the male bastion?

You could say that I have a tendency to go into something that is male dominated. For instance, playing the game of cricket with men or going into the media side of things. I think, the great thing here in Australia is that there were some wonderful pioneers prior to myself. For me, I am very privileged and honored to be given these opportunities but certainly I am very respectful of the people who came before me because I certainly would not have gotten my opportunity if they didn’t break down the glass ceiling.

How can radio contribute more?

Media obviously needs to kind of shed a bit more light on the sport. I think, whenever media tends to cover women’s sports, they do all the fluffy nice stories, which is great, but also we want the media to critique performances. Be analytical – something that the media and journalists are with the male side of the game. When they start to do that, then I get a sense that journalists and the media are starting to really follow the women’s game.

Very often it is also seen, and we have seen that in the Olympics as well, women champions are usually defined by their social roles. For example, when the Hungarian swimmer [Katinka Hosszú] created the world record (Rio Games 2016), and the camera zoomed onto the husband, the commentator started saying, “He’s the man responsible for creating the champion”. Do you see the same kind of incidents or things happening?

I think things are changing. We have got an interesting example in cricket in the sense that Mitchell Starc, the Australian fast bowler, is married to Australian women's wicketkeeper Alyssa Healy, so obviously, you see them at each other's events, so I have been quite quick to say “that's Alyssa Healy's husband” on commentary, not “that’s Mitchel Starc, the Australian fast bowler”, because he’s not there in that context. So I put him back in his place, so to speak. But we are starting to see a change in that, and that will take time. 

What do you think of grassroots coverage?

I think in coverage of grassroots cricket, you will always have those nice stories of a young boy or girl scoring runs or taking wickets in a certain competition. I know our Under-18 Girls National Championships is taking place shortly, and the final will be livestreamed on Certainly, the stories and the wonderful statistics that might come out especially in those junior grassroots cricket, it’s important to share that, and important to share that on the elite broadcast.

What will be your message for World Radio Day 2018?

In terms of women’s coverage, I would just like to see more of it. From a broadcast point of view, I would like to see women commentating on Test cricket, which seems to be the last hurdle.