Melodie Robinson: 'It's still reasonably difficult for women in sports broadcasting'

Two-time Rugby World Cup winner and Japan 2019 commentator Melodie Robinson discusses the challenges she faced when starting life as a sports journalist.

Melodie Robinson admits life on the road could get fairly lonely when she began her career as a sports journalist over two decades ago.

Robinson was drawn to the profession having completed an assignment on women’s sport at university, and come to the conclusion that coverage was almost non-existent.

She felt that the best way to change that was by becoming a reporter herself. Robinson subsequently signed up to a post-graduate journalism course, although her friends weren’t initially confident that she could become a female Keith Quinn.

“He [Quinn] was the man in New Zealand. I think my mates laughed at me because they were like ‘Whatever, a chick can’t do that’,” she remembered. 

“But I think playing rugby helped that along a little bit and I guess I got a couple of opportunities from a couple of bosses, so a bit of luck back then too. 

'You've got to be really confident'

“It’s been lovely, it’s been great and now I’ve got a new role at TVNZ where I’m giving other women opportunities as well.”

It’s fair to say Robinson was more than just ‘a player’. As a two-time Rugby World Cup winner with the Black Ferns, who also represented New Zealand at sevens, the 46-year-old clearly knows what she is talking about.

Her achievements in broadcasting were recognised earlier this year when she was immortalised as a Barbie doll as part of the ‘Shero’ series. But at the start of her career she was well aware that she was the only woman on the New Zealand rugby media circuit.

“There weren’t hardly any women on the road so I’d be travelling every weekend and you’re always with the guys,” Robinson explained. 

“So, that gets quite lonely and you’ve got to be really confident just to hang out with people and make an effort to ring them and say ‘I’m coming out with you’. So you force yourself on them. 

“A lot of people were very resistant to it, I had quite a few comments thrown at me over the years and I think it still is reasonably difficult for women to be normalised in sports broadcasting.” 

Robinson is glad to note that the situation is getting better. She has been part of the Rugby World Cup 2019 broadcasting team on the world feed and in her role as General Manager, Sport and Events, at TVNZ has also given Black Fern Kristina Sue an opportunity in the pundit’s chair.

“It’s great to see Danielle Waterman and Maggie Alphonsi as part of ITV as well,” Robinson added. 

“It’s starting to change and I just think it’s good because rugby’s not just for men, it’s not just for the fans, it’s for women and young girls who are playing in massive numbers as well. 

Reaching out to new audiences

“So, it’s just exciting to see that evolution.”

In Japan, Robinson has formed a popular commentary team alongside Sean Maloney and Andrew Mehrtens, which was bolstered by Eddie Butler for the quarter-finals.

The 46-year-old has known Mehrtens since childhood in Christchurch and worked with Maloney on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series. Welshman Butler was integrated into the fold during karaoke sessions in Oita.

Robinson admits most of the group’s preparation for matches is done “by osmosis” as at least a quarter of their conversations concern rugby. 

However, that discounts the work Robinson does chatting to former team-mates, coaches, players and other journalists to bring viewers and listeners the stories behind the names on the teamsheet.

“When you have a huge audience like we have with this Rugby World Cup, you want to cater to everybody who’s watching – they’re not all rugby experts,” Robinson explained.

“They might not be specific rugby statistics but there’s a wider entertainment part of it. So it helps them to know who those players are and humanises them a bit, and explains the rules to people who get confused.”

RWC 2019 has introduced rugby to a whole new audience in Asia and Robinson has been impressed with the way that the Japanese public has got behind the tournament.

“It’s the impact,” she said. “The fact that mums and dads bring all of their family and their kids down to the fanzones and they just hang out there right to the last whistle of the game and it’s really late but they’re still having a great time and talking to everybody. 

“So, it’s really quite different – the food’s good too!”

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