Women break through as World Cup play-by-play voices

Nov 17, 2022, 7:52 AM | Updated: 8:33 am
Commentator Pien Meulensteen poses for a photo ahead of the English Premier League soccer match bet...

Commentator Pien Meulensteen poses for a photo ahead of the English Premier League soccer match between Tottenham Hotspur and Leeds United at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022. The World Cup will sound different this year. Jacqui Oatley will become the first woman play-by-play commentator for U.S. World Cup telecasts, heading one of Fox's five broadcast teams for the tournament in Qatar that opens Sunday. Pien Meulensteen, Vicki Sparks and Robyn Cowen are among the broadcasters for matches on BBC in Britain. (AP Photo/David Cliff)

(AP Photo/David Cliff)

The World Cup will sound different this year.

Jacqui Oatley will become the first woman play-by-play commentator for U.S. World Cup telecasts, heading one of Fox’s five broadcast teams for the tournament in Qatar that opens Sunday.

Pien Meulensteen, Vicki Sparks and Robyn Cowen are among the broadcasters for matches on BBC in Britain.

“Loads of people will have negative comments about women and women commentators and that’s because that’s just the way that they think. They’re not open to hearing anything different,” said Meulensteen, the 25-year-old daughter of former Fulham manager and current Australia assistant coach René Meulensteen.

“I’ve loved football since I was a kid. I grew up in a footballing house, My dad works in football. My two brothers play football, and we all talk about the same thing, so why not have a female talking about it?” Pien Meulensteen said. “And I’m hoping in time, as well, that we’ll just be accepted. It won’t be seen as like, ‘oh, wow, there’s a woman that’s doing commentary.’ This should be a normal thing to have females talking about football, just as much as men.”

Oatley, 47, worked the 2018 World Cup for Britain’s ITV as a studio presenter and sideline reporter. She and Meulensteen have become regulars on the Premier League’s world feed, heard in the U.S. on NBC’s networks.

“I found the American audience in particular are fantastic,” Oatley said. “They seem to be so much more worldly wise and up to date and modern in their thinking and acceptance of women. And I guess that’s because you have such a successful national team over the years and that you don’t have that history of gender prejudice that we have in the UK and traditionally in parts of Europe and elsewhere in the world, South America, Africa, as well.”

World Cup broadcast booths were long dominated by male voices. That started to change four years ago, when in-game analysts included Aly Wagner on Fox, Viviana Vila on Telemundo, Sparks on BBC and Claudia Neumann on Germany’s ZDF.

FIFA is using color commentators for the first time on its English-language world feed. Its six crews include San Diego Wave coach Casey Stoney and Lucy Ward, both former England players.

Oatley will be paired on Fox with former England defender Warren Barton starting with Denmark’s match against Tunisia on Tuesday.

“They bring knowledge and expertise,” said 77-year-old Martin Tyler, about to broadcast his 12th World Cup. “They only get the work because they’re very good. It’s very important to have the connection with the audience, and they bring their own connection. The most important thing is how good they are.”

Five of ESPN’s six play-by-play announcers in 2014 were British but Fox used just one among six in 2018, Derek Rae. This time, three of five are British, with Rae joined by Oatley and Ian Darke.

“We want the best person available regardless of their gender, regardless of their nationality. Jackie has operated the highest level in the Premier League in England. You don’t have to convince anybody of her qualifications,” said David Neal, executive producer of Fox’s World Cup coverage. “She captures the emotion of the moment. Some play-by-play people are so good and so focused on the technical aspect of what they’re calling that they don’t pay enough attention to what’s going on in the building.”

Oatley grew up in Wolverhampton listening to Barry Davies, Brian Moore and John Motson. She attended the University of Leeds and was a midfielder for Chiswick’s women’s team when she dislocated her left knee and ruptured ligaments when trying to keep a ball in play. She was on crutches for 10 months.

Around Christmas in 2001, she decided her job as an accounts manager for an intellectual property company was unfulfilling. She searched the Internet for how to get into broadcasting, took a one night-a-week job doing sports report for hospital radio and enrolled in evening courses in radio production and print journalism. She gave up her day job and her apartment and stayed with friends while learning her new trade and in September 2002 enrolled in a postgraduate journalism program at Sheffield Hallam University. Oatley wrote to local BBC radio stations and when visiting Leeds made contact with the radio sports editor, Derm Tanner

“I’m a mature student in a hurry,” she told him.

She started freelancing, giving match reports on non-league matches and in 2003 broadcast her first game for BBC Radio Leeds, between Wakefield & Emley and Worksop Town in the seventh tier Northern Premier League.

Charles Runcie hired her for BBC Radio 5 Live, first for women’s matches and then the 2005 Women’s European Championship. On April 21, 2007, she became the first woman to broadcast BBC One television’s “Match of the Day,” between Fulham and Blackburn.

“Unfortunately it became a bit of a news story because there was one difference between the others and me,” she recalled. “It was extremely stressful. All my focus through my training of being a journalist, through the match reports, through the commentaries, had always been on telling a story to the audience. That’s what I wanted to do, and that’s what I worked hard at. And to go from that to suddenly becoming the story and to have the camera lenses trained on me instead of on the pitch was something I found really difficult to deal with and something I wasn’t really ready for and something I didn’t enjoy for a second.”

She became a presenter for the BBC’s coverage of the 2015 European Championship and in September 2021 was hired as commentator for Sky’s coverage of England’s Women’s Super League. Her preparation for Qatar includes bringing her own printer, ink cartridges, two phones and two iPads.

“I don’t like to rely on anybody else’s technology,” she said.

Meulensteen, a 2019 graduate of the University of Salford, worked for BBC Manchester during school and broadcast Manchester United’s women’s team for MUTV. She started Premier League telecasts last December and her first World Cup broadcast will be Poland-Mexico on BBC One television on Tuesday.

“Women just as much enjoy watching football, listening to football, playing football,” she said. “Twenty, 30 years ago that wasn’t an option for women to watch football and have a female voice. Whereas, you go to a football match, you go to Old Trafford, there are loads of women that are watching football and are interested in it. Women should be allowed to also commentate on men’s football matches. It’s just allowing that option for other people to be able to listen to a different voice.”

While many are pleased with the breakthroughs, there are unpleasant detractors.

“I turn off all of my notifications on my phone just because there are so many negative comments from all over,” Meulensteen said. “You don’t want to see something that is going to affect you.”

___

AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


              Commentator Pien Meulensteen prepares for the English Premier League soccer match between Tottenham Hotspur and Leeds United at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022. The World Cup will sound different this year.
 Jacqui Oatley will become the first woman play-by-play commentator for U.S. World Cup telecasts, heading one of Fox's five broadcast teams for the tournament in Qatar that opens Sunday. Pien Meulensteen, Vicki Sparks and Robyn Cowen are among the broadcasters for matches on BBC in Britain. (AP Photo/David Cliff)
            
              Commentator Pien Meulensteen poses for a photo ahead of the English Premier League soccer match between Tottenham Hotspur and Leeds United at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022. The World Cup will sound different this year.
 Jacqui Oatley will become the first woman play-by-play commentator for U.S. World Cup telecasts, heading one of Fox's five broadcast teams for the tournament in Qatar that opens Sunday. Pien Meulensteen, Vicki Sparks and Robyn Cowen are among the broadcasters for matches on BBC in Britain. (AP Photo/David Cliff)
            
              Commentator Pien Meulensteen poses for a photo ahead of the English Premier League soccer match between Tottenham Hotspur and Leeds United at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022. The World Cup will sound different this year.
 Jacqui Oatley will become the first woman play-by-play commentator for U.S. World Cup telecasts, heading one of Fox's five broadcast teams for the tournament in Qatar that opens Sunday. Pien Meulensteen, Vicki Sparks and Robyn Cowen are among the broadcasters for matches on BBC in Britain. (AP Photo/David Cliff)
            FILE - Jacqui Oatley of Britain's Sky Sports is working for the United States' Fox Sports as a touchline reporter during the women's friendly soccer match between England and the US at Wembley stadium in London, on Oct. 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File) FILE - Jacqui Oatley of Britain's Sky Sports is working for the United States' Fox Sports as a touchline reporter during the women's friendly soccer match between England and the US at Wembley stadium in London, on Oct. 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File)

AP

A small plane rests on live power lines after crashing, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022, in Montgomery Villag...
Associated Press

Plane caught in power lines after crash, 2 occupants unhurt

GAITHERSBURG, Md. (AP) — A small plane carrying two people got stuck in live power lines Sunday evening in Maryland, causing widespread power outages in the surrounding county as officials worked to extricate the aircraft. The Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement that the single-engine plane, which had departed White Plains, New York, crashed […]
20 hours ago
This combination of photos provided by the Chesapeake, Va., Police Department shows top row from le...
Associated Press

Walmart shooting claims teen, young woman, father, mother

CHESAPEAKE, Va. (AP) — A 16-year-old helping his family. A custodian and father of two. A mother with wedding plans. A happy-go-lucky guy. A longtime employee. That’s how friends and family described some of the six people killed at a Walmart in Chesapeake, Virginia, when a manager opened fire with a handgun before an employee […]
20 hours ago
FILE - Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. walks on the sideline during a NFL division...
Associated Press

NFL free agent Odell Beckham Jr. taken off plane in Miami

MIAMI (AP) — NFL free agent Odell Beckham Jr. was removed by police from an aircraft before takeoff at Miami International Airport after officials said he failed to respond to requests to buckle his seatbelt and appeared to be unconscious, police and airline officials said Sunday. “Fearing that Mr. Beckham was seriously ill, and that […]
20 hours ago
FILE - Chickens walk in a fenced pasture at an organic farm in Iowa on Oct. 21, 2015. Nebraska agri...
Associated Press

Bird flu prompts slaughter of 1.8M chickens in Nebraska

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska agriculture officials say another 1.8 million chickens must be killed after bird flu was found on a farm in the latest sign that the outbreak that has already prompted the slaughter of more than 50 million birds nationwide continues to spread. The Nebraska Department of Agriculture said Saturday that the […]
20 hours ago
This photo provided by the U.S. Navy shows U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Thomas James in Centur...
Associated Press

Colorado shooting victim ‘wanted to save the family I found’

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — A member of the U.S. Navy who was injured while helping prevent further harm during a shooting at a gay nightclub in Colorado last weekend said Sunday that he “simply wanted to save the family that I found.” Petty Officer 2nd Class Thomas James made his first public comments on […]
20 hours ago
FILE - Director Quentin Tarantino, left, poses with Friars Club Dean Freddie Roman at the Quentin T...
Associated Press

Borscht Belt comedian Freddie Roman dies at age 85

Comedian Freddie Roman, the former dean of The Friars Club and a staple of the Catskills comedy scene, has died. He was 85. Roman died Saturday afternoon at Bethesda Hospital in Boynton Beach, Florida, his booking agent and friend Alison Chaplin said Sunday. His daughter told the entertainment trade Deadline that he suffered a heart […]
20 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

(Photo via MLB's Arizona Fall League / Twitter)...
Arizona Fall League

Top prospects to watch at this year’s Arizona Fall League

One of the most exciting elements of the MLB offseason is the Arizona Fall League, which began its 30th season Monday.
...
Quantum Fiber

How high-speed fiber internet can improve everyday life

Quantum Fiber supplies unlimited data with speeds up to 940 mbps, enough to share 4K videos with coworkers 20 times faster than a cable.
...
SCHWARTZ LASER EYE CENTER

Key dates for Arizona sports fans to look forward to this fall

Fall brings new beginnings in different ways for Arizona’s professional sports teams like the Cardinals and Coyotes.
Women break through as World Cup play-by-play voices