The galleries of the fourth estate in the stadia of this country would not be mistaken for the Round Table at the Algonquin, and neither, I suspect, would those of many other nations.
Ask Carolyn Hitt. She began writing about rugby ahead of the 1999 Rugby World Cup — just ahead, in fact, as her first column outlined her lack of a ticket (“The morning that appeared I had five tickets by lunchtime”).
“I was only meant to write through that tournament but it went down well and I’ve been writing about it ever since,” she said.
Since then she’s published a book entitled Wales Play In Red, the title taken from a deathless witticism delivered to her once at a rugby international, and which led to this column getting in touch.
You’re probably aware of David Campese’s recent tweet which described an Australian sports reporter — a woman — as having no idea about the game. Campese was immediately rebuked by the likes of Australia skipper David Pocock and the former winger apologised, so we thought it might be interesting to get Hitt’s perspective on the issue.
“I was surprised generationally, in that he’s only 50 or so, but on the other hand it’s Campo, someone who thrives on controversy and loves to be provocative.
“I wasn’t so surprised it came from him, but what delighted me were the people who took him on and took him to task — Wendell Sailor, David Pocock.”
(Indeed, Pocock’s right-on putdown even took Campese to task for describing the reporter as a ‘girl’ rather than a woman, which shows an awareness of gender politics one doesn’t generally associate with Aussie sportsmen).
Hitt also points out that the response was proportionate, and not excessive. “The reaction in general was a measured response because any male rugby fan is going to think, ‘well, I’m not going to disagree with one of Australia’s best rugby players if he says he’s happy with this woman’s level of reporting’. There’s a big new initiative against homophobia in Welsh rugby and we’ve seen racism breaking out in soccer, but while I feel sexism can be a little under the radar, it’s good to see it being tackled immediately like this, and by such high-profile people.”
Hitt is at pains to point out she’s a columnist rather than a beat reporter with the Wales national team, for instance, which means that she’s got the freedom to use a bit more context, but irrespective of her brief, she says she’s encountered real sexism rarely enough.
“Writing about Welsh rugby is a bit like writing about the Welsh psyche, trying to capture the game outside the game, if you like. I’ve gotten a lot out of it, and I’ve been welcomed, largely.
“Take the Australia game a couple of weeks ago, that was so typical of us — the World Cup rankings coming down to the last 20 seconds, do or die, and we thrive a bit on the melodrama — we’re either completely sky high or down in the dumps. We have no perspective — we’re dramatic or melancholic, the whole Richard Burton dark night of the soul bit. There’s been a bit of teasing along the way, but even the title of the book, the journalist who said that was a huge help with contacts and so on.
“My experience as a woman covering rugby has been almost entirely positive, apart from a few grumpy old men’s sexist comments.
“That’s why the Campese incident surprised me, though I was really encouraged that people jumped to this woman’s defence, because it’s certainly true that if you’re a woman in sports journalism you’ve got to be twice as good, because if you make a mistake... The one place I find I get a lot of criticism — as many journalists do — is in online comments forums, where you’ll find anonymous keyboard warriors who’ll refer to ‘this woman’.”
She also makes the point that the specifics of Campese’s criticism of the woman in question — Georgina Robinson — don’t stand up either: “What I noticed was that Campese questioned whether Georgina Robinson would be hard enough on Robbie Deans, the Australia coach, while in my experience things can be a bit cosy when it comes to former players assessing coaches and players.”
A fair point that has no doubt struck many of us forced to consume the indulgent white noise that passes for punditry in many quarters.
Before signing off, a quick word about a press box witticism that actually did occur; many years ago in Yankee Stadium a sportswriter — generally deplored for his grammar — was bemoaning the fact that his house had burned down, and asked, rhetorically, who would do such a thing. “An English teacher?” was the response of Jimmy Cannon.