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Meet the Match

A Nigerian Sports Journalist Wants More Women in the Spotlight

It didn’t take very long for Chisom Mbonu-Ezeoke to be known as “the football girl” among her friends in Enugu, Nigeria. Word spread fast around her high school about the girl who knew even more about soccer than the boys.

“Many boys listened to me talk more than other boys because they were shocked a girl could know so much,” Chisom says. “I would watch SuperSport back then and tell my friends, ‘I’m going to work for this station one day and talk about football on television.’”

Chisom was athletic as a girl; she competed on the track and field team during her school years. But, she preferred a life in the stands and behind the notepad. From the time she was 7 years old, she would go with her father to the nearby Enugu Rangers stadium, dreaming of a career in sports journalism.

After finishing her bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Abuja, she worked three years in sales and marketing before hearing about the FIFA agent licensing program. After some research, Chisom learned that no Nigerian woman was licensed to represent the country’s players at the time. In the testing room, she was the only woman in a room of 15 men. And, she passed.

“I really wasn’t interested in selling players,” Chisom says. “I just wanted to be noticed. It was a way of getting my foot in the door.”

Soon afterward, Chisom traveled to watch Nigeria’s men’s national soccer team play an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier in Abuja. Once there, she was invited to dinner, where she unexpectedly met the head of SuperSport Nigeria—one of the country’s largest media outlets covering professional soccer. After their meeting, she got a phone call from her now-boss with surprising news.

“He said the head of SuperSport was so impressed; he’d never met a girl so passionate about football,” Chisom says. “They wanted me to come in for an audition.”

The audition was a success and Chisom was hired as the first female soccer analyst on the SuperSport network. After two years as an analyst and basketball presenter, she began anchoring coverage of Spain’s La Liga and the English Premier League. A decade later, she remains the only female anchor for SuperSport Nigeria.

“Now I’m a leader and an influencer,” Chisom says. “But, initially, people thought I was wasting my time and should pursue something else. And, I say, yes doctors and teachers are very important. But many kids in Nigeria cannot afford school or the hospital. Imagine if they could use sports to receive an education and create better lives for themselves?”

In Nigeria, nearly 63 percent of the population—approximately 117 million people—live off less than $1.90 a day, according to statistics from the United Nations Development Programme. Girls are often the worst victims of poverty, and gender inequalities have put Nigeria among the world’s lower-ranking countries in women’s educational attainment, health, and political empowerment.

Chisom witnesses inequalities play out regularly in the sports world. For example, SuperSport hosts a show, Let’s Play, where Chisom and a production team travel to communities around the Nigeria to introduce sports to children in partnership with national federations and coaches. Approximately 90 percent of their participants are boys. When she visits schools to recruit girls, she is told either they do not want to play, or their parents will not let them play. To Chisom, this mentality denies girls the opportunity to better their lives and empower their future children.

The case is the same in professional sports, where women’s facilities are lacking and pay is drastically unequal. The senior women’s national soccer team, the Super Falcons, have been paid considerably less than the men’s Super Eagles, despite outperforming the men and winning the Africa’s continental championship eight more times than the next closest country.

“People think it doesn’t matter, but it matters so much to the girls,” Chisom says. “They are breadwinners. Their families look to them for help. Aren’t we all Nigerian citizens, entitled to the same benefits?”

Chisom believes positive change can come as more women are exposed to sports at early ages. In 2016, she founded Akoni TV, an online storytelling platform that she seeks to use to empower and teach women how to produce, edit, and write scripts for their own sports stories. She has many other ideas, too, from advocating for new legislation ensuring equal funding and training for women’s sports teams to incorporating sports programs in schools.

During the U.S. Department of State and espnW Global Sports Mentoring Program, Chisom will work with mentors Jennifer Pransky, senior coordinating producer of features, and Lindsay Amstutz, assistant general manager, for Fox Sports. With their combined experience in sports media and belief in promoting women’s empowerment through sports, they are ideally positioned to support Chisom’s vision for gender equality. With a focus on developing business and sports management, fundraising, and leadership skills, Chisom will return home  poised to make lasting change for Nigerian women through sports journalism.

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