Sports commentator Jacqui Oatley celebrates honorary doctorate from Sheffield Hallam University with inspiring talk to students

By Scarlett Cooper

When Jacqui Oatley was frowned upon in the press box she didn’t understand why, but she learnt the hard way.

She was the first female commentator on Match of the Day in 2007 at a time when women sports journalists were few and far between.

Jacqui Oatley, a trailblazer for women sports journalists

Jacqui told SHU sports journalism students that the pressure of being a female commentator in a male-dominated industry affected her and being thrown in at the deep end on her first commentating experience was nerve wracking.

She said: “All the games got abandoned due to the weather except mine and I had to commentate. Yes I felt uncomfortable, I didn’t sleep much but why should I stop because I’m a woman?”

“So what if you’re different?”

She told the students to get out and make their own mark on the media world.

Jacqui said the males she worked with had never seen a blonde woman in the press box before but she had a desire to succeed. Difference was not a barrier and should be celebrated, she said.

When asked about the Yorkshire cricket racism controversy, Jacqui expressed her disgust about the racial comments Azeem Rafiq received and said she hoped people “feel empowered to speak out if it happens to them.”

She found the abuse very shocking and none of it was ok and she hoped that by Rafiq speaking out cricket would get better at tackling racism in the same way football had.

She said: “Asian people should be able to feel safe and comfortable in the workplace.”

Jacqui Oatley was appointed MBE in 2016 for services to broadcasting and diversity in sport. The award was recognition of her work behind the scenes championing the role of women working in the media.

“I’m so proud of how far women’s football has come, Sky treat it equally to the Premier League there is no cutting corners, it’s amazing.” She expressed her delight that even though the budget used to be so small, the Women’s Super League has grown massively.

Jacqui has hosted for ITV Sport and BBC Sport, and is the new Sky Sports lead commentator on their FA WSL coverage and recently became the first woman to commentate live on the Premier League game for Sky Sports and the worldwide coverage.

She expressed her passion and love for her job, “I’m so grateful for every job I have, I can’t believe I get paid to talk about football.”

Don’t ask Roy Keane for a selfie…

She has worked alongside football’s biggest names: Roy Keane and Gary Neville. She spent a month alongside them at the Russia World Cup, “I couldn’t believe every morning I was having breakfast with them…. they’re lovely people but don’t ask Keane for a selfie he hates photos.”

In journalism Jacqui made it clear to her student audience that contacts were currency.  From starting in non-league Leeds football to Match of the Day, she put her foot in every door to construct her career. She had a passion for football and her first experience was non-league.

She said: “It’s always better to be at the bottom of a ladder you want to be on, than half-way up a ladder you don’t. Your mindset is your biggest asset.”

From her contacts she was offered a three-year contract at ITV which included being the first female presenting on darts, not a familiar sport to her. When developing questions to ask she made sure to ask what the audience wanted to know. She said experience in all sports was key.  

Her younger self lacked confidence and life experiences allowed her to stand on her own two feet. Living in Germany at 17 and travelling the world at 21 gave her confidence to become a journalist.  Her advice was encouraging and she told the students to go above and beyond, to work hard and be nice to people.

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