Is anyone really interested in women’s sport? Should women own their own media? These are just a couple of the questions I asked Ann Odong, Founder and Editor in Chief of The Women’s Game. Ann and her team of women’s football experts are off to the FIFA Women’s World Cup held this year in Canada from 6th June to 5th July.
Transcript: Danielle Warby in Conversation with Ann Odong
I’m Ann Odong. I’m the Editor of The Women’s Game, which is a website all about women’s football. We look at grassroots all the way up to the Matildas and very soon the pinnacle, the World Cup.
You are headed over to the World Cup, how have you managed to get all that happening with running a website like yours which is essentially all run by fans?
It’s been a bit crazy the last probably six months or so, well, actually probably 12 months, ever since the Matildas qualified for the World Cup. But we’ve been thinking about this for a while, it’s something we wanted to do and we’ve got a great group of fans, volunteers who are very accomplished in their own fields, and we’re getting together to follow the team and document their World Cup campaign, which hopefully ends in Vancouver on the 5th of July.
So you’re pretty confident the Matildas are going to make the final then?
I’m a pessimist by nature, so I’m hoping they make the final. I’ve booked myself all the way to the final and yes, look, I think they’ve got a good shot and hopefully we will see them then.
You started up The Women’s Game for a particular reason, do you want to tell us what that is?
Yes, I started working in men’s football back in 2005 – oh my God, it’s been 10 years already – and I was doing some women’s football stuff and only doing little patches of it. Men’s football, there was so much information, so many different websites that I could go to to get information, but for women’s football it felt like I was spending three, four, five hours trying to find the information and it was from all different sources, federations, all sorts of stuff.
It got to the point where I was just sick and tired of having to do the research, it was really difficult, and I started to enjoy women’s football, so I didn’t want to leave it.
So I thought well, why not create a portal where you can find all the information in one spot from Young Matildas to the W League, which eventually came along, and all the way through to the Matildas?
What made you decide to start your own website, as opposed to working with an existing organisation to promote women’s football?
I am about to give you a bit of a plug that you did with Sporting Sheilas. That was one of the websites that I went to quite often to get Matildas news and particularly during the 2007 World Cup you were posting quite often, there were articles, there was all the new stuff that I needed to be able to find.
So I felt like if I could create something I could control what information goes up, I could control how much information goes up. I think within organisations, particularly at that time the web was something kind of new and it was something kind of foreign, and then around that time social media really started to blow up, there was Facebook, there was Twitter, and over the years we’ve had YouTube and Instagram come across.
So in starting my own website we can control what the message is and we can control how much or how little that we do, which I think in organisations there are always constraints, whether it’s in terms of funds or interest really.
Yes, how important is it for you to be able to set your own editorial direction?
It’s really important because in terms of framing the conversation I found over the last eight years or so we’ve been able to help influence what the conversation is about. So in that regard we are all about the positivity of the game, we try and look at inclusiveness as well. So we don’t just look at one area but we try and look at all different areas, whether it’s able-bodied or para-football as well, which we’re starting to get into. So these are all areas of, I guess, niche markets, niche areas that we want to be able to speak more about and therefore our editorial control is really important to that.
But Ann, nobody’s really interested in women’s football or women’s sport, are they?
You know what, once every two years or so people get really interested. I can’t tell you how busy we are at the moment. I mean, sleep is kind of a luxury. I’ve got a couple of days off before I go overseas, but throughout the whole tournament we’re going to be really busy and our team is starting to get contacted quite a lot by radio stations. We’ve kind of grown in step with women’s football. I mean, ten years ago, like I said, hardly anybody wanted to know anything and now it’s come around World Cup time or Asian Cup time, and even during the W League, everyone’s really interested. It’s got to a level where it’s a great standard of football, it’s a great game and some people are moving away from men’s football because they find that women’s football is a really pure great form of the game.
So what do you think is needed to take it to the next level? You guys are, like you said, all volunteers, how do you go from being a “fan site” to a “serious” news site?
I think we are almost there. As you mentioned, in the beginning it was this stigma of we’re just bloggers or fans with keyboards. I can’t tell you how many times I heard “fans with keyboards”, but a lot of us with our jobs we do a lot of writing.
We are professionals, we’ve got a psychologist, we’ve got somebody who works in immigration, we’ve got myself who’s a paralegal, we’ve got people who are professionals in their own right. And we come together from a really good base and therefore over the years we’ve learnt and we’ve put processes in place, we organise the content plan and we do basically everything that large organisations do.
I’ve been lucky enough to work within large organisations as well, during the Asian Cup I ran the social media on that, and so I’ve learnt along the way how to set things up. I think the amount of times I hear from actual “media professionals” saying that they come to our site to look for information. I think we’re at the stage, and we’re very much aware of it, where we do have a good brand and we do have good standing within the community and we’re really protective of that.
How important do you think it is for women to create their own media?
Oh, I can’t tell you how important it is for women to own themselves, own their media, own what they do.
I’ve been working with a lot of the Matildas, and you have as well, in terms of learning to own their own brand and, in a way, creating their own content. It’s so important because then you are the one that gets to push the information, instead of being a passive participant in your own media.
These players are excellent payers and I think during the World Cup we’ll see that their own brands will build and I think that’s where somebody like me and someone like you and our organisations, we can help these athletes build those brands and then they can go to media organisations a little bit more of an active participant of what information gets out about them. I just think it’s something that’s going to be the future. As more platforms are available to women and sportswomen, they can start to own that a bit more.
There’s going to be a lot of amazing women, both athletes, media, fans, at the Women’s World Cup. If you could pick three people that you would like us to talk to or you think our listeners would like to hear from, who would they be?
Oh, you have to put me on the spot don’t you?
I would like to talk to Tatiana Heini, who is the Head of Women’s Football at FIFA. I think she works a lot in Europe, but she also works worldwide and there have been a couple of really big issues around the World Cup, for example the turf issue, that she’s sort of been at the forefront of. So I think she would be somebody who would be really interesting.
I’d love for you to talk to Lori Lindsay, she’s a player that was there in 2011, has just recently retired, and it would be interesting to see her point of view on being at a World Cup as a spectator instead of a participant, so that would be really interesting.
And also I would like to see you talk to maybe somebody from FIFPro who would also be at the World Cup, and they’re looking at setting up a player’s union for the women. And particularly in relation to that turf issue, it felt like there was a real power imbalance between the players and FIFA, and an organisation like FIFPro is going to be really important going forward as being a collective voice of the players, particularly when there is such a power imbalance. So yes, those would be interesting for me.
Read More from Women in Sports Media
This interview is a part of a series on women in sports media. Read more:
Thanks to Bridie’s Typing Services for transcribing. She’s fast and accurate and awesome!