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International Women's Day 2021: BT Sport's Sarra Elgan - "Let's get more women watching women's sport... and make brilliant female athletes role models for our daughters"
On International Women’s Day, we’re celebrating the women who make BT Sport what it is. BT Sport rugby presenter Sarra Elgan speaks about her experience of working in a male environment and how young girls now have more women in sport to look up to than ever.
Rugby is in Sarra Elgan’s blood.
Daughter to former Wales international Elgan Rees, she grew up around the sport – so it is perhaps no surprise that it has taken up most of her career in broadcasting.
As well as hosting live Gallagher Premiership, Heinken Champions Cup, European Rugby Challenge Cup and Premiership Rugby Cup action on BT Sport, she presents alongside Jonathan Davies and Nigel Owens on the S4C rugby show 'Jonathan'.
“I grew up on the rugby pitches of Wales from a young age,” she reminisces.
“My dad played every Saturday afternoon and every Tuesday or Wednesday night we were somewhere watching Dad play. Rugby has always been in my blood.”
International Women's Day on BT Sport
- 24 hours of women’s content across the channels – no matter what time you tune in, you’ll be able to watch women’s sport programming
- Watch live WSL, W-League and College Basketball and some new content; The Rise of Women’s MMA and The Rise of Women in WWE
- BT Sport will broadcast Premier League fixture Chelsea v Everton followed directly by FA WSL fixture Bristol City v Reading, with a focus on women in sport
Sarra, who’s also married to former Ireland international Simon Easterby, didn’t take a direct route into the role that she enjoys now as a BT Sport rugby presenter. Her first professional job was as an actor in the soap opera Pobol Y Cwm, before working in children’s television. But she knew that sport was where she wanted to be.
“I’d like to think I’m a better presenter than I am an actress!” she laughs.
“I started off acting then I went into children’s presenting. While I was children’s presenting I thought I really would like to be a sports broadcaster - because loving sport and obviously having grown up immersed in rugby, that’s what I wanted to do.”
Was it hard to get that first foot in the door in sport?
“I don’t think it was harder because I was a woman," she says. "I think you have to work hard and start getting as much experience as you can from a young age and that’s what I did really.
“I remember going to see someone for a job in sport and they said: ‘You’re a bit too young and you need a bit more experience.’ And that was probably the best bit of advice I got at that stage.
“I remember I used to go to rugby matches here in Wales and log the tries then drive back to what was HTV and watch them edit the tapes. For me, that was the best advice I could’ve got at that time at that young age - to get a bit more experience. I knew what I wanted to do.”
There are far more female role models out there now for young girls to look up to and want to be.
- Sarra Elgan
For women working in the sport industry, it can come with challenges – particularly in the age of social media. But Sarra is grateful that she works in a sport that she believes has always been respectful of everybody.
“I feel like I have to do a little more… make sure all bases are covered, that if somebody asks me something then I know the answer to that question," she says.
"I don’t know if that’s because of my personality - that I like to be thorough - or whether it’s subconsciously because I’m a woman working in a male environment.
“But I think I’m really fortunate in rugby. I’ve never experienced any discrimination because of my gender. It sounds a bit cliché to say a rugby family, but it genuinely is.
“I don’t think any players or any coaches that I’ve interviewed have ever not respected me because I’m a woman. I feel fortunate in that sense - that rugby always has and always will be quite inclusive.”
She admits she has to be resilient when it comes to social media comments, particularly at a time when fellow rugby presenter Sonja McLaughlan admitted she was “in my car crying” after she was “inundated with abuse for doing your job” following a recent post-game interview with England head coach Eddie Jones.
“You can get 100 positive tweets or remarks on social media but sometimes it’s the one or two negative ones you concentrate on,” Sarra sighs.
“To be honest, I think years ago it probably would have upset me and had more of an effect on me than now. I think that is just experience and having a tougher skin I guess.
“It’s been well-documented of late and it’s important that it is documented. Hopefully it’ll change because I wouldn’t want to put any other females off achieving their dream, whether that be in sports broadcasting or the sport they choose to do. It’s important that we stamp that out as best we can.”
But Sarra is positive about the trajectory of change in women’s sport and hopes it will continue in the years to come.
“When I was growing up, loving sport like I did, there were maybe not enough female role models or professional athletes that we could look up to in the media. But I think that’s changed now," she says.
“For young girls growing up now, I think it’s started to change that they are seeing female athletes more everywhere.
“There’s a line isn’t there - ‘you can’t see them, you can’t be them’. So I think that is getting better. We’re seeing more female athletes. There are far more female role models out there now for young girls to look up to and want to be.
“From my perspective, it’s changed in the sense that there are a lot more females working in sports broadcasting now and we’re all very different. That’s a really good thing for young girls to see.
“There are so many different female broadcasters that present in different ways, ask questions in different ways, that young girls can look up to.
“Female athletes and female broadcasters are seen more - for our daughters to see them and want to be them. That’s down to putting more female sports on TV and brands with campaigns with female athletes in them and this is so important. I hope it gets even better in the years to come.”
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And while progress has been made, she believes that the key to this progression continuing is to focus on women watching women’s sport.
“A lot of it is ‘we need to get men to watch women’s rugby or men to watch women’s football’. Actually, we need to get more women to watch women’s sport as well,” she says.
“That’s a big thing for me - to try to get young women interested in sport and interested in female athletes. Because that’s how we’re going to grow. That’s how we’re going to see more women in sport, see more women in sports broadcasting. It is by getting women to watch women’s sport.
“For me that’s something I’d like to be a part of, to try and get more women to watch women’s sport rather than just trying to get the male audience over. To try to make these brilliant, brilliant athletes the role models for our daughters.”
International Women's Day is a day to celebrate and inspire; the sportswomen, the brilliant broadcasters and the outstanding production team who enrich our sport and our shows and make us a better team.
This is not a one-off day. This is us. The women you're watching on BT Sport today, and those behind the camera, are part of our team - they're integral and important to who we are. We say to those who show resistance and hostility to women in sport: BT Sport is not a channel for you.