It is easy to think of sports as macho. This is because the field is dominated by men — and not just the athletes — but reporters too. Sports journalism has historically been a difficult area for women to break into.
But lately, there are many prominent female sports journalists around the world, and Rwanda has not been left behind.
Ruth Rigoga is the face of the sports show on TV 10. For years, she was the voice behind sports shows for different radio stations.
She first worked with Isango Star in 2010 and left a year later to join KFM. Rigoga is now a household name in the sports journalism field.
Rigoga is vibrant and even with her sporty nature; the 28-year-old exudes poise.
She is also a go-getter because to her, the sky is the limit.
Entering the male dominated field was a dream come true, Rigoga says, as it has always been a part of her life. In fact, her entire high school education was on a sports scholarship. She played basketball, football, volleyball and was a runner as well.
The transition from player to sports reporter was no stroll in the park. Nonetheless, she persevered and got her first gig with Radio Isango Star, and that was her breakthrough.
She boasts of an eight-year-long career and, looking back, Rigoga recalls the hurdles that led her to where she is now.
“Starting out was really hard. I met many challenges because in 2010 when I was just joining this field, I think there were no women doing sports journalism. No one understood why a woman would want to be a sports journalist. I was also very young and people would undermine me,” she says.
She recalls an encounter with a workmate who almost made her give up.
“I had a workmate who didn’t want me on the team, he thought I didn’t have the skills and always gave me a cold shoulder. He made sure that I never got to do anything. For example, we would organise everything for the show but when time came to present, he would lock the studio and I would go back home without presenting,” she says.
This made her believe that maybe she wasn’t good enough and that presenting was not her calling. As she contemplated quitting, another colleague encouraged her not to do so.
“One of my workmates was supportive, he advised me never to let anyone kill my passion because I had the ability to make it, and this gave me the courage to withstand,” she says.
And her struggles were not in vain; slowly by slowly Rigoga built a name for herself in the field.
Even though journalism was not something she dreamt of as a child, she ended up taking the course and came to love it.
She plans on continuing to build her career as a sports presenter. She also hopes that in case life chooses to take her somewhere else in later years, she will be able to present sports once in a while.
Ariane Uwamahoro is another known name in sports journalism. In 2013, she graced the studios of Rwanda Broadcasting Agency (RBA) and her presentations captured the attention of many.
She has worked with Radio Maria, Radio Huguka and Radio Rwanda and is now a presenter at Rwanda Television.
The 30-year-old made headlines when she became part of the reporting team at the African Nations Championship (CHAN) tournament held in Kigali in 2016 — with many calling her ‘a rising star’.
Her love for this field started during her childhood; she grew up with a strong passion for sports. As a child, she loved playing football and basketball with her brothers. Her parents, as well, laid the foundation as they were sports fans and would watch games together as a family.
Uwamahoro went on to chase her dream when she took on journalism and communication at Institut Catholique de Kabgayi. She was to be a reporter, something she always wanted right from childhood.
Thriving in this field would not be easy; she later came to learn, as there was a perception that did not work in her favour.
“People had this perception that women can’t be as good at sports reporting like men, and this blocked opportunities for us. I remember a time when I was denied a chance to commentate because of my gender,” Uwamahoro says.
But it is said that ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ and Uwamahoro drew lessons from the bad experiences — she realised that if she was to break boundaries in this domain, she had to work twice as hard.
“Working in the sports field requires passion but for a woman, it goes beyond this, you have to work extra hard,” she says.
Uwamahoro believes that though female sports presenters are still few in number, the face of sports is changing with more women developing a passion for sports.
She says that some women are shy, and so the nature of the job might discourage them to join the field.
“Going to the stadium and standing in front of a large crowd with a microphone is not easy for some, and this is why we still have very few female commentators,” says Uwamahoro who hopes to continue breaking down barriers.
“I hope that one day I will go even higher and get the chance to work for SuperSport or Canal+.”
Assoumpta Mukeshimana is a soft-spoken sports presenter at Radio One and TV One.
She embarked on her career in 2010 with a mission to fulfil the dream she had since high school, and since then, sports journalism has become a big part of her life.
“Sports journalism is my life, I feel it and I love it. I chose this field because I always had the feeling that women can do it well and I wanted to prove that we can, and yes we can,” she says.
Mukeshimana knew she was ‘encroaching on male territory’ but she knew she had what it takes to get on board.
“I chose to be in a man’s world because I was anxious to prove that I belonged here. I was very sensitive, it’s not easy to prove every day to everyone that you belong to that world and can do it as good as a man or even better,” she says.
The fact that she had to work twice as hard to prove her abilities didn’t stop her from doing what she loved.
“From the day I decided to be a sports journalist I had confidence and this has helped me a lot. I have managed to overcome all sorts of challenges and negative vibes from people who think a woman cannot be a good sports journalist,” she says.
Mukeshimana was young when she joined the field, but she let nothing stand in her way. She is now a wife and mother.
“Being a mother is hard; it is not something you learn in class. In life, I have learned to set my priorities straight so that I deal with work and also have time for my family. Also, it would not be easy for me to be a good wife and mother and sports journalist — that requires me to be in field almost every day — if my husband was not supportive. Whenever I need him, he is there for me so that I can work peacefully; he is a good father and my best friend,” she says.
Mukeshimana’s belief is to finish what she started, quitting when the going gets tough is not an option. Staying focused and fixing her eyes on the prize is what has kept her going all this time and she believes that greater things are yet to come.
She hopes to one day work with international media houses in the sports field.
What can be done to encourage more women to join sports journalism?
Women should give it a try; it is possible that they are intimidated but I think they have what it takes because the ones I know are doing better than their male counterparts. Women should believe in themselves, as long as they have the passion there is nothing too difficult because this field is even simpler than most.
Aristide Mugabe, Basketball player
I think those who are already in the field should get in touch with those aspiring to join such that they share their experiences on how they made it and the milestones taken.
Topy Kayitare, Youth leader
The hiring practices need to change, and media houses have a role to play in this. They should be willing to hire female sports journalists and, the environment should at least be conducive to encourage more to join.
Rugamba Mihigo, Software engineer