In this interview with The News Chronicle, renowned sport journalist, Janine Anthony sheds light on sports and the state of women football today with a special focus on the African continent.
TNC: Thank you for accepting our invitation and kudos for the great project you have set up at “LadiesMarch”. To start with, can you tell us why you decided to pursue a career in Journalism and not in your field of study – Marine Biology?
Janine: I had always been passionate about sports; I got into trouble playing football in the school. It was something I wanted to do professionally and I let my parents know about it. But you know in the African setting then, a decision like that was not usually supported by family and friends, they saw it as mainly a men’s affair.
So, I changed my mind to do something more traditional, like going into the sciences, engineering. I studied marine biology in the university but it didn’t stop me from speaking about sports and growing in my knowledge of sports. By the time I finished studying, I had built a network of people in the media who thought I will be an asset to the industry if I made it a career.
What started as guest appearances on shows and internships led me to a full blown career in sport journalism.
TNC: Could you educate us on your project called – Ladiesmarch
Janine: LadiesMarch is a network of women and allies who decided we needed to propagate women football, in Africa, by Africans, for Africa and by so doing create a platform that helps them flourish. Because the only time women get to have their short-lived fame is in tournaments, competition and maybe bad press, so we wanted to ensure we have a platform to be able to get information on women football online readily available.
There was a scarcity of information on women football when I picked interest in this. LadiesMarch was actually a radio show on Cool FM Nigeria where women spoke about sports on Sundays, not just to amplify women sports but also the women in sport. The fact is football is the most popular sport in the world, not even mentioning that it is a religion in Africa.
I remember one time we went for a tournament and one of the coaches met us and said they had to rely on information from LadiesMarch to know about their opponents; like tactics, players and so on. It was flattering and encouraging for us, but it also meant a lot of work needed to be done.
TNC: Are there any challenges LadiesMarch face?
Janine: As regards challenges, I joined the BBC 3 years ago and LadiesMarch is almost 7 years old. It was one of the factors which brought me to BBC. We had great writers in LadiesMarch who moved on to work with international organizations, so it meant that LadiesMarch went into a hiatus for some time, in fact it still does as many other networks have sprang up and filled the gap.
What we do now is more of like an overseeing network, because we have a sizable followership, so we are not doing much editorial work now because different big organizations snapped us up as entrepreneurs who had set up something great.
Original Founding members of LadiesMarch are: Chibuogwu Nnnadiegbulam now with AIPS Italy. Still the Managing Editor. Faithful Akpojovwo, now working as a UK NHS Nurse, Queen John, now the Media Officer of Rivers Hoopers who represented Nigeria at the first ever NBA BAL.
We needed a lot of support from the media; the international media precisely, because we were the African media in quote.
One time we decided to begin filming the women league, each match cost us nothing less than 30,000 naira, for cameras and other logistics. It was after we started that other mainstream media picked interest. We were rewarded by people who read our pieces and gave us feedback.
Towards a later end of LadiesMarch, we had a sort of breakthrough when YouTube partnered with us after they saw a content we created.
TNC: You’re quite an accomplished Sports Journalist, having worked with some of the biggest brands including FIFA, IMG’s Premier League Productions, German Bundesliga and Italian Serie A rights holder – StarTimes, YouTube, the Guardian UK, can you share some experiences in these places and the lessons you learnt from them?
Janine: The experience has been surreal but very expected, I knew I had the talent, it was only for the world to come and see it. But the world wouldn’t wait for me; I had to meet the world. And one has to be strategic, just like working on LadiesMarch opened me to a plethora of networks
For the Guardian UK I have been part of their top players of the year awards judging panel. For FIFA I was part of the panel that put together the nominees for the women category in 2018. I also served as their Africa representative in 2018. For IMG Premier League Productions, I produce all of their African features.
Part of the experience also is that I see my hard work paying off and learning to see the world in a broader view; work with different people, culture, and language.
TNC: In June 2019, you became the first African woman to lead football commentaries at a major men’s tournament for a rights holder, making history at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt. In your opinion, what did you do differently that took you to this feat?
I would say grace, I do the best I can through hard, smart and strategic work and then grace takes me further.
Like for some of the invites, FIFA and the likes, I was recommended by people. Also, I didn’t rest, I kept improving myself. I advise women journalists to not just do what everybody is doing, which is not bad in itself, but find a niche and work on it, set yourself apart.
As I said, I keep improving myself, going for training in different countries even at my own expense, doing trade sometimes to sponsor those projects and improve my skills.
For example, when I learnt how to edit videos, use social media with catchy hashtags, I used these skills on LadiesMarch. I have this mantra; you have to stay ready, you don’t get ready.
TNC: With your passion, knowledge and experience, do you imagine going into team management or coaching at a later time in your life? Or do you feel it will limit your capabilities?
Janine: About feeling limited, that will not be the case. It is like saying because I can cook variety of dishes, then I should not have a favorite. The thing is that I am drifting from broadcasting and focusing more on leadership, general business marketing, and infrastructural development. I am currently doing MBA in UK to further equip me on this new drive.
For example, Africa with its huge amount of young people has an enormous human resource, but we do not have the infrastructure to develop it. Look at the revenue England generates from football but Africa is held down by ineptitude and corruption.
So yes, I can be a coach, but now I am working on the business and leadership aspect of sport. People ask why I am leaving broadcasting in my prime. You have to give opportunity to others, women especially. There are brilliant journalists out there who can fit in well.
TNC: African countries have continued to fail at International Tournaments particularly the males at the world cup and till date, no African country has won the male senior world cup. What can the continent do to break this jinx and establish itself as a force to reckon with in world football?
Janine: There’s no magic to it, once the foundation is bad, it’s going to be sinking sand no matter the late remedy you try to apply. Football has moved from the days of fairy tales. It used to be unpredictable. Now lots of countries are investing in modern football, tactics, conditioning, health strengthening. The kit they wear is put into consideration; does it help performance.
So many things go into winning a world cup, the day one world cup ends, some countries begin to prepare immediately for the next one and even 20 years ahead.
In the African setting there are a lot of issues. Football federations cannot settle on who the president is, there are court cases, players are not paid, injured players are left to carter for themselves. We have favoritism and thus merit suffers. Coaches are not adequately trained.
TNC: Generally speaking, what can be done to improve sports in Nigeria?
Janine: I would say a lot has to be done. The audience has to be carried along; we have lost the most important thing in football which is the fans. Protect local footballers, referees, coaches.
I always say that Nigeria missed an opportunity in winning the world cup a long time ago through the women team. Nigeria’s falcons are among the pioneers of women football, they have gone to every world cup since 1991, only 6 or 7 countries have done that. At the onset, there were just 8 nations participating, if they couldn’t win it then, you can imagine the scenario now that we are having 32 nations competing.
The governing bodies have to be put in order, if we can do the right thing, no matter how long it takes to win a medal, we will definitely be on the right track. We have to avoid the addiction to medals. I prefer we set up structures that will last rather than just 3 weeks rush.