Women in sport: Janine Anthony

Elana Shapiro speaks to sport producer, presenter and journalist, Janine Anthony for our Women in Sport series.

Elana Shapiro
4th March 2021
I phone Janine early on Saturday morning. She answers immediately and I am hit by a wave of enthusiasm and passion coming down the phone. I would never have guessed that Janine had been up most of the night, working on some assignments for the MBA that she is currently undertaking at Newcastle University.

But why would an experienced journalist, producer, and presenter, who made history as the first African woman to commentate on a major men’s tournament, the African Cup of Nations, take a break from the BBC to gain her MBA? Moreover, Janine is the founder and CEO of LadiesMarch, a pioneering network of African men and women who report on women’s football, in various communities across different areas in Africa.

“It’s farrow ground though”, Janine tells me, regarding the sport, and consequently the opportunities and potential for women’s football are limitless. This is especially true within the context of Janine’s native Nigeria and it is what lies behind her decision to study for an MBA.              

She explains, “I’ve been driven by the fact that Africa lacks the infrastructure to create a thriving sports business industry. Look at the EU, it raises billions from the sport industry and look at football tourism in the UK. Football for the UK has been such a huge tool in building their reputation globally. There are some villages where people don’t even have phones but they can watch Premier League games on TV. That’s the power of the industry. With the amount of passion for sport in these African countries, perhaps not including Egypt and South Africa who have capitalised on it more already, it doesn’t make sense that there isn’t a thriving sports industry. We have the resources and the potential but not the structures”.

The political climate is inextricably linked to the sports infrastructure in Africa. Janine explains that when the government changes it often implicates the funding for women’s sport, in essence women’s sport is reliant on men and there is a real lack of stability. This is a landscape that she wants to change but it’s difficult.

Janine knows first-hand how important women’s sport is, for its influence on achieving gender equality and the confidence it gives to young girls. As a child, she became interested in football because of her dad. Janine laughs, “I’d run away from chores and hide behind my dad so I’d watch football with him. When I saw women playing in the Cup of nations I was inspired and wanted to play professionally but my parents stopped me because of stereotypes, discrimination and the lack of funding” but this is evidence of another point that is important to Janine,

“Dreams are fuelled by representation.”

And there has been some progress. There is talk of a women’s Champions League going ahead in Africa this year. There has been sponsorship for some of the top leagues, funding which the government is not able to interfere with. But yet there is still so much disparity. The 2018 Women’s Cup of Nations winners were set to earn less than the winners of the U17 and U20 male category in the same tournament before the CAF later reviewed and reversed the decision. Janine tells me about an article she recently covered on Gina Bass, a 24-year-old national 200m record holder, who is known in the Gambia as ‘the poorest Olympian’.

The 2018 Women's Cup of Nations winners were set to earn less than U17 and U20 male categories

These are the stories that she focussed on during her time at the BBC – Janine is interested in the humans behind the sporting feats. She explains that this can often be difficult with female athletes because of “a culture of fear” where women feel like they must be grateful for what they have and cannot complain. There is fear that their words can be taken out of context and often women can be frozen out of teams or replaced if they do speak out and this can inhibit the visibility of sportswomen.

I ask Janine who her favourite sportswoman is, and she answers confidently, “I love all of them. They are changing society; they are all heroines to me but there is a sporting moment that inspires me. The celebrations of the Nigerian women’s relay team when they won bronze at the 1992 Olympic games. They celebrated more than the team that won gold and I think it shows the passion that women have for sport”.

Tomorrow I speak to Benthe Tanghe, Newcastle University’s Athletic Union Officer.

Featured image: Janine Anthony
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