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 woman pumps gas at a GetGo Mini Mart in Valencia, Pa., on Monday, Jan. 23, 2023. On Tuesday, the ...
Associated Press

US consumer confidence lags as 2023 gets under way

American consumers are kicking off 2023 a bit less confident than they were at the end of last year as inflation and the possibility of a recession loom. The Conference Board reported Tuesday that its consumer confidence index slipped to a still-optimistic 107.1 in January, down from 109 in December. Last month’s reading was the […]
9 hours ago
The Southern Poverty Law Center's Esteban Gil poses for a portrait at Jefferson Recreation Center i...
Associated Press

Why workers at growing number of nonprofits are unionizing

Over his six years at the Southern Poverty Law Center, Esteban Gil watched colleague after colleague leave. Part of it was the nature of the work: helping people in immigrant detention and in prison. It is high-stakes, high-stress work. But there was also something deeply wrong with the way the group operated and the very […]
9 hours ago
FILE - Abortion-rights protestors march between the Indiana Statehouse and the Indiana State Librar...
Associated Press

Indiana justices won’t hear 2nd abortion case for now

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana’s high court said it will not immediately consider a challenge to the state’s abortion ban that is based on the argument that the law violates some people’s religious freedoms, leaving that decision to an appeals court, at least for now. The state Supreme Court issued an order Monday saying the state […]
9 hours ago
Pope Francis on a wheelchair is flanked by Congolese Prime Minister Sama Lukonde, center right, as ...
Associated Press

Pope’s Africa trip spotlights conflict, and church’s future

KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — Pope Francis began a six-day visit to Congo and South Sudan on Tuesday, aiming to bring a message of peace to two countries riven by poverty, conflict and what Francis has called a lingering “colonialist mentality” that still considers Africa ripe for exploitation. Francis landed at Kinshasa’s airport and was greeted […]
9 hours ago
FILE - A logo on a vehicle at a Ford dealership in Springfield, Pa., Tuesday, April 26, 2022. The U...
Associated Press

US probes complaints of parts flying off of Ford Explorers

DETROIT (AP) — The U.S. government’s road safety agency is investigating complaints that windshield trim panels can fly off of Ford Explorers while they’re traveling at highway speeds. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says it has 164 complaints about the trim pieces detaching on 2011 through 2019 Explorer SUVs. The probe covers about 1.86 […]
9 hours ago
FILE - Elon Musk departs the Phillip Burton Federal Building and United States Court House in San F...
Associated Press

Tesla gets Justice Department subpoena for self-driving cars

The U.S. Justice Department has requested documents from Tesla Inc. related to its Autopilot and “Full Self-Driving” features, according to a regulatory filing. “To our knowledge no government agency in any ongoing investigation has concluded that any wrongdoing occurred,” Tesla said in the filing Tuesday with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The Austin, Texas-based electric […]
9 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Fiesta Bowl Foundation

Celebrate 50 years of Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade magic!

Since its first production in the early 1970s, the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade presented by Lerner & Rowe has been a staple of Valley traditions, bringing family fun and excitement to downtown Phoenix.
...
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.
...
Children’s Cancer Network

Children’s Cancer Network celebrates cancer-fighting superheroes, raises funds during September’s Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Jace Hyduchak was like most other kids in his kindergarten class: He loved to play basketball, dress up like his favorite superheroes and jump as high as his pint-sized body would take him on his backyard trampoline.
Women break through as World Cup play-by-play voices