The number of women and young girls taking part in sport is increasing with figures published in the Telegraph, sourced from Sport England, showing that the number playing sport regularly has risen by over 200,000 in the year 2015/16. However, many still feel they are discouraged by the stigma around it. As a child, Kate Mason found that some of her teachers tried to discourage her from playing what they considered ‘boys’ sports. Nevertheless, she continued to and has even used this to motivate her throughout her career and is now a successful sports journalist. Having previously worked for ITN and talkSPORT, she is now based in Qatar working with BeIn Sports. I spoke to her about commentating, radio and the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Many of Kate’s early memories involved playing sport and as an only child, she would often join clubs and teams so she could find people to play with. “There were plenty of good football, rugby and cricket teams for kids in Oundle, the village where I’m from, and as they were all for boys I had to get used to sticking out a bit. That said, being in boys’ teams probably meant I improved faster, as I knew I had to. I’ve realised that although most of the time I was accepted as just another member of the team, there are plenty of memories of being ignored and not passed to in football or being cut from the cricket team because, according to Mr Wells, ‘girls don’t play cricket’. As I’ve progressed in my broadcasting career it’s become clear that those instances have partly driven my career choice. My aim is to help enthuse all people about sport, and hopefully normalise women being involved as much as men,” Mason said.
Having previously wanted to work in the industry, but never believing that it would be possible, it wasn’t until the London Olympics in 2012 that Kate believes was the ‘watershed’ moment. “I was watching Clare Balding doing her job so brilliantly, and clearly having the best time. She went to the same university as me and, like me, she’s never been a pro athlete. I thought: why shouldn’t I have a chance at this?” she described. With her Mum being an English teacher, Mason was always encouraged to write with her Mother being enthusiastic about small scraps and pieces she wrote as a child. “I read English at university where I would write the occasional match report for the newspaper, as well as comment pieces and theatre reviews. I also had a weekly radio show, where I learned how to source guests and talk on air,” Kate explained.
Mason started writing a blog and pitching her work to newspapers. Knowing that she had a niche in a good knowledge of squash, she approached the Metro sports editor who she had discovered was also a fan. Kate’s parents had both played squash for many years and so growing up this too had always been a part of her life. “I’d turn up at the big UK tournaments and offer him pieces from there – a few of which, excitingly, he took. Some would just go on the website, so if that happened I’d record a piece to camera that could go alongside the article, to build my skills. If an article went in the paper I was paid. The moment of getting my first cheque for sports writing was very special indeed,” she told me. After freelancing for Metro for a while, she applied and was accepted onto a training scheme at the BBC called ‘Kick Off’. A course which many now working in the industry have been a part of, it involves working at a local radio station sports desk with Kate working at BBC Radio London. “It was a brilliant way to learn. After that, the boss Pete Steven recommended me for some more work including a gig as a stadium announcer at Wembley. Someone else recommended I speak to one of the guys at talkSPORT who was in charge of launching new station talkSPORT2, and a similar thing happened with ITN,” Mason said.
Working for ITN and talkSPORT allowed Kate to learn different skills such as commentating, editing and reporting. “At ITN I was a broadcast journalist, which basically involved making voiced packages for TV about the main sports stories of the day. I also had the chance to start commentating on football highlights, and get feedback on what I was doing. My manager Raj Mannick was great at this. At talkSPORT I worked on everything! Reporting, building running orders, editing, presenting. The team was so small and there were so many hours to fill on the new station that there was nothing you weren’t asked to do,” she explained.
Kate is currently working at BeIn Sports, based in Qatar. The role came about when she was reporting on a golf tournament in France and met someone who was there from BeIn. “He turned out to be related to one of my best friends at home, so we stayed in touch. He said he’d keep an eye on jobs for me. Around the same time Lynsey Hipgrave suggested I talk to Duncan Walkinshaw who heads up the English team. About a year later they got in touch, interviewed me, and said there was a job. The opportunity was unmissable,” Mason said. She now presents the channel’s daily news show covering a range of global sports. Although mostly focusing on European football; golf, tennis and cricket are also regularly featured, with Kate also occasionally reporting specifically on tennis and football. “We’re a small team, so everyone works on production – editing and writing stories – every day too, which I love,” she added.
Qatar is also set to be the host of the next FIFA World Cup in 2022, and this is part of the reason for her jumping at the opportunity with BeIn. “When I was tiny I used to draw football posters, and most of these were for World Cups gone by, plus the occasional Tim Henman one for Wimbledon. These went all the way back to the first one in Uruguay in 1930, so I was a little bit obsessive. This is why when I was offered the chance to come and work on football in the place that will next host the World Cup I couldn’t believe my luck. When I drive to work I see the landscape changing as the place gets ready to host football fans from all over the world. BeIN is at the heart of that. I could never have imagined that sports broadcasting would mean leaving my life and my fiancé in London to move four thousand miles to the Middle East. But to be doing what I’m doing here in Doha is just a dream come true,” Kate explained.
But its not only on TV that Kate works, having covered sport in print and radio also. However, it is not always a seamless transition as she must adapt her language and the way she approaches the work, depending on the medium. “When I first started my career, I tried to pick up as much work as possible and I would prepare in the same way for all three. Now I know you need to differentiate. When writing, the key is depth; for TV, it’s breadth; for radio a bit of both – plus you can keep detailed notes with you, so it helps to have good ones,” Mason told me. But this isn’t the only challenge of her role with her saying: “accepting that progress takes time. I’m not sure that’s specific to my role, but I want to try something new every single time I go to work, which may make me an exhausting colleague.” With much of what she has done being live, this adds an element of unpredictability, even when you wouldn’t expect it. One such incident occurred not long ago when she was called in to present a show at the last minute. “One of my colleagues was due to present the studio show around the Community Shield but his wife went into labour. So, three hours before kick-off I got a call from the show producer Ally Begg: ‘It’s urgent, I need you to present….’ It was my first ‘big’ live studio show and I had no time to prepare. Less than ideal. But I just decided to try and enjoy the whole thing. And I really, really did,” she explained.
Kate Mason was discouraged from sport by some of her teachers when she was young, however that only motivated her more. When she saw Clare Balding presenting at the London Olympics in 2012, it became clear that sports journalism really was what she wanted to do. Having been inspired by Balding, Kate’s hoping to inspire other girls and normalise women working in the sport. Speaking of her advice for those wanting to follow in her footsteps, she said: “because working in sports broadcasting is seen as a desirable career, many people think they want to do it. Don’t worry about them. Don’t have too fixed an idea of exactly what job will be best for you in the early stages. Find relevant people and see if they’ll meet you. I made a spreadsheet of contacts – name; email; job title; their interests; my questions – and added two people each week. When you do get the chance to meet people, draw together your thoughts beforehand: think about why you’re keen on this area of work, and anything that makes you particularly a good bet to succeed in it. Try and get comfortable saying this, it’ll make you feel more confident. And if you keep trying, work will come.”