Meet the Match

A Chinese Journalist Breaks the Glass Ceiling

Xinyi Hua had not always been passionate about soccer. Born with asthma, she had not grown up playing sports as a girl in Shanghai, China. If her physical education teachers asked her to run, she would walk. And, if there was a way to get out of class altogether, she would find it.

That all changed in high school when Xinyi became a fan of the local soccer club, Shanghai Shenhua. Soon enough, soccer became a powerful and influential force in her life—so much so that she’d often skip studying to go to the stadium and cheer on her team.

“In school, we had endless tests.” Xinyi says. “If my grades dropped my teachers would tell me, ‘Xinyi did you go to the stadium to watch football—is that why your grades dropped?’ And they were probably right. It was.”

While she had no athletic ambitions of her own, Xinyi dreamed of a future as a sports journalist so she could one day cover her favorite team. Her parents were not in agreement and wanted her to study English instead. When it came time for university, Xinyi tried bargaining with them, but they refused. Unwilling to give up her dream, she locked herself in her room for days and cried until her mother finally told her, “Okay, Xinyi, you can be a sports journalist.”

By 2002, Xinyi had completed her bachelor’s degree in sports journalism from the Shanghai Sports Institute and a master’s degree in journalism from Fu Dan University. At the age of 22, she was hired by Xin Min Evening News, where she has worked for the past 15 years, climbing the ranks from summer intern to chief writer to deputy director of the sports department.

Throughout her time with the newspaper, Xinyi has done much more than cover her favorite soccer club; she has covered more than 25 Grand Slam tennis tournaments, the FIFA World Cup, three Olympic Games, and the NBA Finals. Since 2005, she has also won first or second prize in the Chinese Evening News Group’s Best Annual Sports Stories every year, and was named the Shanghai Presswoman of the Year in 2016.

Outside of her own professional success, Xinyi credits sport for uniquely opening her eyes to the world. On one occasion, her job might take her to cover a Wimbledon Final. But, on another occasion, she might be visiting a local hospital in South Africa during a break from World Cup coverage to see children being treated for HIV. As she travels more, it becomes natural for Xinyi to see how sport and social change become interconnected.

“It seems like nothing related to sport, but football gave me the chance to go so many places, to see innocence and suffering, and to share these stories” Xinyi says. “For me, sport is a culture and the power of the mind, and life, coming together.”

While women’s sports participation is increasing as China’s female athletes become more successful, stereotypes and discrimination against women in sports careers are still widespread. Working women in China, including female athletes, are drastically underpaid compared to male athletes, and women’s sports are not marketed in the same way, making acquiring sponsorships a challenge. Even in the journalism field, when Xinyi travels to the annual meeting of sports evening news directors (China has more than 100 evening newspapers), usually only two or three women are in the room.

Xinyi believes a key way of combatting these challenges is to increase the opportunities for Chinese women to empower themselves through sports. Once empowered, their impact can naturally spread from Shanghai across the entire country.

“You must start by empowering yourself,” Xinyi says. “A man can be physically stronger than a woman and lift 100 kilos over his head, but we live in a modern world now. We are equal. I want women to see they have their own value.”

During her time at the U.S. Department of State and espnW Global Sports Mentoring Program, Xinyi seeked to develop innovative approaches that would help her spread the message of women’s empowerment through sports in China. In order to do so, she is supported by mentors who can help her develop skills in organizational management, communications in changing media landscape, and fundraising. Patricia Betron, senior VP of sales and marketing, and Katina Arnold, vice president of communications, are two of the most prominent female leaders at ESPN. Patricia has been named one of the most powerful women in cable television, and leads the sales team for women’s sports, while Katina has spent more than a decade in corporate communications for the company. As a duo, Patricia and Katina provide valuable experience and wisdom to support Xinyi. With their guidance, Xinyi can raise her voice as a female sports leader in China and clear a path for a new generation of women to enjoy sports from both the field and the press box.

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