Verge Meets: Reshmin Chowdhury

Reshmin Chowdhury is a multilingual sports presenter, reporter and event host, broadcasting globally for BBC Sport and BT Sport, with a decade of experience interviewing some of the biggest names in world football.”

Tell me about your career

I definitely took the scenic route into my current role! When I started out, there was no defined career path, so for me, it was all about creating the building blocks and gaining the right skills to create one. For example, presenting and reporting was the ultimate goal, but I felt that it was important to be a journalist and producer before I went on camera.

Aside from studying for an NCTJ Post-Graduate Diploma in Newspaper Journalism (on the advice of my mum!), I wrote for an online events guide and spent a year working in five different countries producing business reports for international print media before moving into TV news. At ITN, I had a stint producing on the main ITV news show but the digital section provided the most brilliant grounding – producing, voicing and editing your own content. From there I spent time at BBC London where I got my first taste of reporting. I also spent time at Bloomberg and BBC News.

Always a massive football fan, I eventually found an opportunity at Real Madrid TV in 2008 and I spent two seasons there, living in Madrid and working in Spanish and French. The highlight was definitely being the first journalist to interview Cristiano Ronaldo, following his then record-breaking move to Real Madrid. This is a job where you do a lot of everything and it was a wonderful, enriching experience that fast-tracked me to my next role.

I secured a contract with BBC Sports News before I returned home to London in 2010 and have been there ever since – with two stints of maternity in between!

I joined BT Sport fronting their sports news show in 2014 before beginning reporting duties on the UEFA Champions League and Europa League the following year, which I currently combine alongside presenting and reporting with BBC Sport.

 

Did you always want to go into journalism and specifically sports broadcasting?

Yes! And specifically football! Just to show my age, I wanted to present Match of the Day with Des Lynam when I was younger! I fell in love with football during Italia 90 and if someone told me back then what I would be doing now, I would probably have jumped for joy and pinched myself in disbelief! My brother is 14 months older than me and we were very close growing up, watching loads of sport together, from tennis, to rugby, to Olympics – pretty much everything.

 

Tell me about a challenge you’ve faced in your career

I think the main challenge was that there was absolutely no obvious way to get your foot in the door, unless you came from a sporting family and / or mixed in right circles. It’s as simple as that, especially if you wanted to be a broadcaster (though many of course, get lucky too). Add to that being a second generation Asian girl wanting to enter an industry that was completely alien to anything my family knew, which in my case was an accountant dad and teacher mum. Even when I started out as a runner / assistant, news was a more natural route, because I had studied Politics and Economics at University, even though sport was my first love. The struggle to find an entry point into this arena has been a real one and my progression has been based on sheer determination and personal belief. I also never had a mentor, nor was I ever someone who happened to end up in “the right place at the right time”, so I really had to navigate myself in this industry and trust my instincts to do what would lead me to where I wanted to be.

These days, I’m a mum-of-two and the juggling act of pushing on in your career, travelling for work and the natural guilt you feel as a mother can be extremely exhausting and difficult to balance. There is no hiding place either when it comes to doing your work prep and “performing” in your role, especially in what I do.

 

How did you overcome it?

I was incredibly tenacious and always kept my eye on programmes I thought that were interesting. I would look up people’s names on the credits at the end, and then call the switchboard to speak to them and / or ask for their email addresses. I basically kept my ear to the ground all the time, always hungry and always looking for exciting opportunities, especially if there was any foreign travel involved, online, via jobs boards and by talking to people.

I’m clearly not the shy and retiring type, but strangely enough, I wasn’t a great networker. I always found it crass to only speak to people because they could be useful! I just took my chances from a different angle. Nowadays I am very much more “on the inside”, having built networks in a natural and organic way, which I’m much more comfortable with.

My intro into TV news came in the most random way, via former ITV News reporter Angus Walker, who happened to be with a mutual friend I was talking to on the phone! Angus and I eventually met up and he gave me the details of the news editor at the time. That personal touch really helped open the door. It was a similar story getting into BBC London, via a friend, then I continued to constantly get in touch with editors, knock on doors and tried to make something come off. Whilst I kept myself in the mix of production – and very literally, in the building – I always looked for opportunities that offered a chance to gain more on-screen experience. The story of how I found the Real Madrid job is a very long one, but if you get a sense of my personality, then you wouldn’t be surprised to know it took some detective work!

 

Why do you think it’s important for women to receive equal recognition in sports, particularly in football?

It’s important because it’s about time! Women have exactly the same hunger, desire and mental strength to succeed as men. Years of social conditioning to create stereotypes of women being the weaker sex are long outdated and utterly unfair and the world is now waking up to this fact. Women are just as capable of performing at the top of their profession as men and equal recognition is not a lot to ask for in return.

I love the fact that sporting supermums like Jo Pavey, Jessica Ennis and Serena Williams have been leading the debate, as have the footballing mothers who have spoken openly about the struggles of balancing training and parenting duties in industries where the sport isn’t backed by the same finance. Taking maternity leave can set you back years without the right support and that simply isn’t fair. At the end of the day, this is a job which requires 100% commitment and professionalism, whether you’re a man or woman, so the rewards should be the same.

 

What makes you passionate about working to increase female participation and support in football?

I’ve grown up loving football and sport in general and have so many fond memories of watching games with my brother and friends. Sport is an emotional rollercoaster, often with such high drama, and it is a pleasure to witness it and via my work, be a part of it. I just don’t understand why that should be confined to one gender, it makes absolutely no sense.

Although I watched so much sport, funnily enough I was never sporty. I always found ways to miss PE lessons and my family didn’t encourage it either, because culturally, they didn’t think it mattered. I’ve embraced exercise over the past four years and it has changed my life. Being physically active helps me focus, stay mentally strong and balance my priorities amidst my very manic lifestyle that never really slows down. I think those benefits are there for everyone to enjoy. As a mother of a young son and daughter, I actively encourage exercise and sport because I want them to experience all of that and learn important life skills through team sports, whether that be through football or anything else. The way I see it, there is everything to gain via sport and absolutely nothing to lose.

 

What are your predictions for the World Cup? Which teams should viewers be looking out for? Any surprise teams to look out for?

I genuinely believe this is the most enjoyable and open World Cup of my lifetime. There are dark horses that have gone far, as Uruguay and Croatia have proven, while the so-called bigger football nations have bowed out early. This was supposed to be the worst squad Russia had ever fielded, yet they appear to be riding on the wave of being the home nation.

Before the tournament, predictions were largely favouring Germany and Brazil who have so much talent in their squads, but this World Cup has been the gift that keeps on giving and after Germany’s shock exit, the surprises kept on coming.

As for England – wow! The significance of winning that penalty shootout against Colombia cannot be underestimated. Whatever happens from now, the World Cup has been a huge success for England and for Gareth Southgate. That redemption for the boss after his own penalty heartbreak 22 years ago was a truly beautiful moment in football. Fans who had started to feel apathetic towards the national team are starting to fall in love with England again. Of course, there are imperfections that need fixing, but the connection with the supporters is back and so is the belief and respect. That is huge.

 

Do you have any predictions for who the top scorer will be?

Initially I would have tipped somebody like Cristiano Ronaldo because he’s so hungry to break every record going. Personally though, I hoped from the start that it will be Harry Kane! He is an immense forward who has worked relentlessly hard to reach this level. He has earned the England captaincy. As a Spurs fan, I’m immensely proud of his journey. Plus, he is genuinely a great guy to interview and always so polite and respectful. I like people of that temperament to do well.

 

How do you think the use of video assistant referee technology will change the World Cup?

The use of VAR at the World Cup was always going to have teething problems and you can’t please everyone. However, while not everyone is going to like the way it works, a recent survey from Yahoo Sport found that 73 percent of the population were looking forward to seeing it at the World Cup so there is a base of support.

However, I think the main problem we have seen has been consistency and the system is still subjective and prone to human error. There are occasions where you are crying out for it when an incident is missed, and there are other times when it picks up on something that you haven’t noticed and it changes the game for the better. The Iran v Spain game for example, when there was a blatant offside which was spotted, but where was it when Harry Kane was being tackled to the ground by defenders? The list could go on….

 

Why do you think that more women than ever will tune in to this year’s tournament?

I think the ripple effect of all the recent high-profile campaigns to make sport accessible to everyone is starting to bear fruit. It’s not just a man’s game anymore and a World Cup or major tournament is often a family affair too. Women’s football has rightly received so much more mainstream coverage and footballers like Alex Scott and Enu Aluko have been a breath of fresh air as World Cup pundits. Simply having them in that male environment helps connect with more female viewers, as does the growing number of female sports journalists out in Russia.

On a wider scale, I think campaigns like “This Girl Can” and the work of Women in Football and Kick It Out have made examples of industries where women have been wrongly treated. Social media has also been a massive platform pushing these campaigns forward and reaching more people. There’s a growing acceptance of women in sport in general and they are consistently proving they’re not just there to make up the numbers.

 

You’re co-hosting Yahoo Sport’s World Cup series The 32 – tell me about the show

“The 32” is a World Cup show that is all about the fans from the 32 participating World Cup nations, hence the name. It is filmed in front of a live studio audience on every matchday with a star pundit on the sofa, but the real stars are the “super fans” who join us every day their team are playing. It’s insightful, funny and allows our very knowledgeable fans to give us their opinions on the tournament. Together with our resident comedians and reporter on the ground, the aim is to bring a flavour of the fan culture direct from the venues in Russia.

 

What are you most enjoying about it?

I love the fact that the show is different to other football shows out there – it’s fast-paced and energetic. The standard would be to have a presenter and some pundits talking about the action. However, Yahoo Sport’s “The 32” involves the fans who are really knowledgeable and give us a different angle, giving the conversation much more depth. It’s like we’re all at home on the sofa talking about the games, with intelligent insight, culture and analysis.

What’s more, the show is not at all formulaic as it’s not scripted. We laugh a lot on this team and there are no egos at all. I’m really enjoying working with everyone here, as well as my talented co-Presenter Toby Tarrant, who somehow manages to reduce us to bellyache laughter at 7am every morning! It’s rewarding for me as a presenter too to work on a different platform and in a different style, because it allows me to bring my own personality to the programme and have fun. When you break it down, sport is, of course, supposed to be fun!

 

What advice do you have for students who want to go into this field?

I think there are many more avenues to get into sports journalism these days, which were not there before and the advent of social media has made the industry much more open, so use that to your advantage to research the industry and connect with the right people.

I would also say please get into it for the right reasons, not just because you want to be on TV! Sports journalism is a privilege to work in and you really should have a vested interest in it, especially because competition is so fierce at the moment and you’ll get tripped up if you’re not.

If you’re at the start of your career, then get as much work experience as possible. Write to everyone and go for everything! Then remember that getting that first foot in the door is a golden opportunity you should seize with all respect it deserves. You’re not above any other person in your team and you should stay humble and be ready to work and learn – always having the long game in mind. Engage with your peers because they can really help you as you move forward and if you can, try to find a mentor. Events like “Raise Your Game” hosted by Kick It Out are an amazing forum to do this, so make sure you look into it.

Take every opportunity to make as many connections as possible but be genuine and true to yourself – things can happen organically, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Passion, determination and confidence will take you far, so always be tenacious. Finally, remember that the graft, rejections and heartache are all part of the journey too!