Roha Nadeem: The story of cricketer-turned-sports presenter and journalist

The following are excerpts taken from an interview with Roha Nadeem – a sports journalist and presenter. She currently hosts a sports show on CricWick.

The Upcut: Please tell us a little about yourself and how did you fall in love with cricket?
Roha Nadeem: My home town is Lahore but my family moved to Kuwait in 2005. I had been living there. I did my A-Level from there and that’s also when I started playing cricket. I used to study in a Pakistani school where I received a brochure which said that trials for female cricketers were being held over the weekends.

The trials would take place on the weekends only. Around 150 girls, including me, showed up on the first weekend. And by the time we got to the second trials, hardly 50 girls turned up mainly due to the very hot climate. It was then that the girls realised that cricket trials were serious business. The roadmap was clear. The girls who were going to get selected at the trials would be made part of the Kuwait Women’s U19 Team.

Roha Nadeem

TU: Wow! So, did you manage to make it to the U19 Team?
RN: I did! I somehow made it to the U19 Team purely on the basis of my passion at the age of 13!

TU: Did you play international cricket? If yes, at what age did you make your debut?
RN: When I made my international debut I was 14. In fact, I turned 14 on my very first international tour. You can imagine what it must have felt like. Girls with me were the ages of 19 and 20 and were proper professional athletes whereas I was very young comparatively.

TU: What did you think of your chances then?
RN: When I went on my first tour with the team, I had no hopes that they would play me in a single game. What I had in my mind was that they would take me with the team in the squad but I won’t get to play a single game. But I was proven wrong and got the chance to play one game. I was only starting my career at that time and I had no experience of professional-level cricket but I enjoyed that chance a lot and they had selected me solely on the basis of my passion for the game.

TU: What was your role in the team?
RN: I was trying to specialise as a leg-break bowler and my coach would train me for the same skill. However, I would always bowl short-of-length. *chuckles*

I could never develop the skill properly. I would try to bowl my best and bat down the order.

TU: Why did you stop playing cricket?
RN: When my A-Level exams were near, I had to quit playing cricket as I was unable to handle my education and cricket career simultaneously.

TU: You must have felt disappointed at the time?
RN: My father told me that I didn’t have to leave cricket and could still be a part of it. He told me that I just needed to channelise that passion into something else which subsequently led me to start writing on it.

TU: So, how did you start your writing career?
RN: I published my first article at the age of 16. The said article was published by Express Tribune. That’s when I knew that this was what suited me more and that’s how my journey with cricket took another shape. That’s also how I made it work even after I stopped playing cricket.

Writing was always my passion and I always wanted to write on cricket and for a while I only did that. When I was in NUST doing my Bachelors, I used to write articles along my studies. I have worked with Express Tribune, Dawn, and with several international magazines.

TU: How did you end up working with the Pakistan Cricket Board on PSL?
RN: I was very active on social media especially on Twitter. People in the industry knew me. Which is why, I was offered a project named “Dil se Jaan Laga De” – a pre-hype show for the third edition of the PSL.

I had no prior experience of being in front of the camera as I was only focussed on writing. However, I did my auditions and subsequently got selected for the show. It was a curtain-raiser for the PSL, and put me on the TV screen straightaway despite having no prior experience. So for me, it was more like being at the right place at the right time.

From there on my journey as a sports presenter started. But, it was never my ambition to be in front of the camera because I was very conscious of being on screen and I had always felt more comfortable behind the camera. When I did my first project, I thought that this was a one-off thing since I had always wanted to be a writer and not a TV presenter or an anchorperson.

TU: Tell us about some of the challenges that women sports presenters and journalists face in a pre-dominantly male society.
RN: There are many challenges. In fact, some of them are so subtle that they are very difficult to point out. And for men, they are incredibly difficult to understand. On the face of it, people might support you, but only working women know what challenges they are facing. There is underlying sexism and presumptions that women do not know what they are talking about.

Especially when it comes to sports, people have these ill-conceived notions that women lack knowledge of the subject. People think that they just sit there in front of the camera with makeup on. This is a prevalent presumption in our industry and among the audiences too. I am not saying that everyone is like this. There are people who treat you with respect and as an equal in the field.

TU: Do women sports presenters and journalists face such challenges from athletes too?
RN: Yes! We face these challenges from athletes as well with whom we have interactions on day-to-day basis because these athletes don’t treat women journalists the same way they treat male journalists. I don’t know whether it is because of the societal and cultural norms or out of respect, but they have this hesitation because of which the communication level is never the same.

As a journalist, I have to rely on the day-to-day relationship-building with these athletes. You can take the recent example of a small controversy with Mohammad Rizwan involving Zainab Abbas. You can understand what I am talking about. Recently, I faced a similar kind of challenge when I was covering a hockey tournament where when I questioned the players, they wouldn’t look at me while answering the questions. I understand that this is primarily due to cultural norms but being a sports journalist or a reporter it becomes very challenging because we don’t get the same kind of access to athletes that a male reporter would get.

TU: How do you think the situation will improve?
I think it will improve slowly and gradually as more and more women become a part of this field because only then people will get educated on the matter and would stop treating women sports presenters and journalists as exceptional cases.

TU: Talk us through your experience at The Hundred.
RN: The experience at The Hundred was absolutely amazing because never in my wildest dreams had I thought that I would get to work under/with the England & Wales Cricket Board. They organised this tournament from the scratch for men and women both after so many challenges amid the tough times of Covid.

That whole experience was special because when the PSL started I was studying in Islamabad and couldn’t even get a day’s off. I have that regret that I wasn’t involved in our very own league right from the start. In this way, I was fortunate that I got into The Hundred because I was studying there. And when I saw an opportunity, I applied there without any prior networking, any connection and purely on the basis of my skills, my competencies, and my previous experience.

TU: You have worked with both – the PCB and the ECB. How do the two differ from each other?
RN: The biggest comparative difference between working there and in Pakistan is that they are purely and entirely based on merit. Their process is thorough, making sure that everyone gets a level-playing field. And they ensure this on every level for males and females both. The second biggest element that stood out for me is professionalism. It was much better in terms of the management of the tournament, punctuality, communication, work environment, and working hours.

Even in Pakistan, the PSL is organised in a very professional manner hence the reason the brand has become so big. Look, I am not saying that people over here are not professionals, but I felt that working experience over there is a lot smoother. I think these two are the major differences as everything is based on merit over there and everyone is greeted with respect, and is treated equally.

There is no difference between a girl or a boy when it comes to sport. Girls used to come to watch the games and women matches would be watched, enjoyed and loved by everyone. This was also a major difference because getting audiences here at women’s games remains a far cry. The women cricket matches are not even being broadcast here.

TU: What are your plans for future?
RN: I have recently come back to Pakistan and I am figuring things out. I only came back during the PSL’s seventh edition. I hosted this amazing and a fulfilling show with former Pakistan Test captain Misbah-ul-Haq. If you are asking me about the long-term plan then I’d really love to have my own show where I can have control over the creative side so that I can be in a place where I oversee all the content that goes out.

I would really love to have a show where I can call people and talk to them. I am such a huge sports fan that you can give me any sportsperson as a guest on the show and I will just keep the conversation going on. In a long term plan, I would like to build a platform that is content-driven, where guests won’t only be athletes but a place where we can highlight women sports, their struggles and go over their journey through the platform.

I would really like if there are sponsors who can back up the platform. I feel that this can be done through creative content, content curation and if the packaging is done right. I really want to contribute to women sports and women cricket in some way in Pakistan.

TU: What is your message to aspiring women presenters and journalists in the country?
RN: It might sound a bit clichéd but your confidence and your knowledge are your biggest skills. If you have these two things and you know what you are talking about, and your subject matter is strong in your head then these two things will take you forward.

It does not matter how you look, what you are wearing, who your connections are. All of these things are secondary or will become secondary once you have been in the field for a while. At the end of the day, people will only want to listen to you and watch you because they feel like you know what you are talking about and you have confidence. You should have confidence because only then you can talk to anyone and you can convince anyone.

You cannot genuinely survive without confidence in this male-dominated industry because every other day people will look into your eyes and question you and doubt you. Even if you are wrong, it doesn’t mean you cannot make any mistake or you are expected to be right every time. No. We are all humans and this is a journey. So far, I cannot claim that I know everything about cricket and I have never claimed that I do not make mistakes.

This a continuous journey and you should have the confidence to speak your mind and if the other person is disagreeing with your opinion then they would respect you for having the confidence to speak up. Don’t be upset, don’t be discouraged of the bad patch because you have to keep improving. People pay a lot of attention when women make mistakes in this field compared to when men make mistakes. But always remember that people simply move on, ignore and forget soon. So, my advice would be to know your skills, know your field and just be confident in what you are doing and that will take you forward.

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