Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Women in sport: Too many suggestions from people who don’t understand the challenges’

Posted on 9 April 2021 by Colin Benjamin

Colin Benjamin spoke to his colleagues and veteran women cricket communications professionals Mary Godbeer from International Cricket Council and Sipokazi Sokanyile from Cricket South Africa to reflect on Women’s History Month 2021.

Established female sports organization communications duo Sipokazi Sokanyile and Mary Godbeer have highlighted that a stronger push for equal pay for women in sports and greater appreciation for the unique differences in women’s sport are the two key areas that need improving.

The pair were speaking to Sports Gazette in a candid conversation reflecting on Women’s History Month 2021, which had a theme of #ChooseToChallenge.

Godbeer is currently a nine-year communications veteran in the International Cricket Council (ICC), while Sokanyile is an 11-year veteran in Cricket South Africa (CSA). Both women are part of sport organizations that currently and historically have had majority female led communications departments, which makes them uniquely qualified to speak on this topic. 

“The overarching point surrounds how people suggest fixing the issue. There are a lot of suggestions to fix the problem by people who don’t truly understand what the challenges are”, said Godbeer.

Godbeer added: “From a sports perspective I feel what we are trying to do at the moment to some extent is replicate what’s done in the men’s game in the women’s game and then judge it on the same thing. Actually I don’t think that’s the way we should be going on.

“There are differences between both and I think we should be celebrating those differences and pull out what in women’s games is inspiring and what we want to celebrate. Then you use that as the hook or special element to promote women’s sport.”

Mary Godbeer – Assistant Manager, Media and Communications, International Cricket Council [credit: Mary Godbeer]
Sokanyile spoke on the equal pay situation giving an example of how Cricket South Africa have led on this issue.

“One of the things that needs to change is equal pay. There is still a large gap in this area whether it’s corporate or on the athlete side of things”, Sokanyile said.

“Our country is 80 % black and for many years because of apartheid we have not been well represented. Cricket South Africa was the first national board in our country to contract women players. Being leaders in that has helped women players in netball, rugby and football – the biggest sport in our country.

“We can speak all beautiful words and wax lyrical about what is being done in the background, but until you start seeing it monetarily which changes people’s lives because money creates financial independence. That’s one of the biggest things for me as a woman.”

Both Godbeer and Sokanyile elaborate on the aforestated point regarding how empowering working in an all female communications department has shaped them.

“I’m very lucky to have Claire Furlong (ICC General Manager – Marketing and Communications) as head of department and a very inspirational leader. I feel very empowered in my department and that’s down to the responsibilities I have and faith she has in me. That’s really important because there are not a lot of businesses or departments that are predominantly female”, said Godbeer.

“It’s not something (being female in a majority female press team) that I consciously think about. It’s more we are all in the team because we are the best at what we are doing and were given this opportunity, where three out of four in the ICC press team just happen to be female”, Godbeer articulated.

“Coming into the organization we had a wonderful female leader in current world renowned cricket broadcaster Kass Naidoo”, recounted Sokanyile.

“She led an all female communications department for about five years. It was the most empowering and inspiring time. She placed in committees and meetings where we had no business in, but it helped to set the stage where we could make a difference.”

“So having a strong female leader backed up by a male CEO Gerald Majola that was forward thinking created a fantastic working environment”, concluded Sokanyile.

Sipokazi Sokanyile – Media Manager, Cricket South Africa [credit: Sipokazi Sokanyile]
Cricket fans in England will never forget the 2019 50 overs men’s world final at Lord’s. But just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020, the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup Final in Australia had a similar unforgettable moment for women’s cricket and sport. Godbeer gave a behind the scenes ICC synopsis of how meticulous cricket’s governing body has focused on growing women’s cricket in recent years.

“This was a longer term plan and a journey that started in April 2017 where the ICC had a plan to increase the focus on women’s cricket. On that day the first cricket women’s forum took place in India and everyone was challenged on what we could do to make a real impact on the women’s game”, Godbeer recalled.

“The resounding impact of that was to broadcast all of 2017 ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup matches with the ambitious target of selling out Lord’s for the final. The next step was the 2018 Women’s T20 World Cup in Caribbean where we had more fans attending that competition than in the Men’s Cricket World Cup hosted a decade before in the West Indies. We saw some excellent numbers across the venues in Guyana, St Lucia and Antigua.

“So last year to have 86,173 people for the 2020 Melbourne final – with the cherry on top having pop sensation Katie Perry singing there, it was a collective achievement with the tournament Local Organising Committee in Australia. I played a tiny little part and was a fantastic moment for me personally and professionally.

Away from sport also in 2021 under the #ChoosetoChallenge theme, recently the new American President Joe Biden established a communications team led entirely by women.

As a long time women media professional, Sikonyile spoke on how profound of a groundbreaking moment this was for women across the global media landscape.

“It’s groundbreaking. Joe Biden is seen as the most important leader in the world, so if he is calling upon the communication expertise of an all-female team that tells you how important the outlook of a female communicator is”, Sokanyile said.

“We are not going to see the impact of it now – but in years to come in hindsight. People are trend followers, so as communicators I’m looking forward to sitting back and watching and learning.”

In Godbeer’s final message as a British woman who has come through the ranks, her words for upcoming English sports media aspirants seeking to emulate her were: “First thing, don’t be afraid and intimidated by the environment you are going into. Go with the mindset and confident that you have the skills and experience to get the job you want and you deserve. Smash that imposter syndrome into pieces.”

Sonkanyile’s similar message in the context of being a black woman in the ongoing global #BlackLivesMatter movement was: “My parents raised me to not fear anyone and that’s my biggest message for any woman and black women coming up in the industry. We may not have royal blood – but we are queens. So in any job situation don’t bow your head down to nobody and don’t feel ashamed of the colour of your skin.”

“You have to have this unapologetic pride in who you are. Once you know you are in any room that you have the dream to be in – nobody can stand in your way no matter who tries to block you. Time always exposes the hard workers”, she concluded.