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History maker: Janine Anthony relishes leading an all-female BBC crew to AFCON

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Janine Anthony is a Sports presenter with BBC Africa. She is team leader, West Africa bureau. She runs the sports desk, monitores output, and putting together production schedules including booking, overseeing editing as well as editorial decision making. She is founder and Editor-in-Chief of a Pan-African website Ladies March. Janine is presently in Egypt covering the Africa Cup of Nations. She spoke with Jacob Ajom.

Janine Anthony
Janine Anthony

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Your assessment of AFCON 2019 after the group stages? It’s been mixed reaction as there won’t be an outright rating from me because from my point of view, a lot of factors have impacted on AFCON, like the heat which the players play under, the fans turnout at matches, where we are seeing fewer fans than previous AFCONs as some say because of the ticket prices while others talk of the security fears. So a lot of things have come to the fore on the one hand. On the other hand, in terms of hospitality, the fans are out there enjoying themselves, making new friends. Some Egyptians are adopting countries like Senegal because of Sadio Mane, who plays in Liverpool alongside Egyptian hero, Mohammed Salah. Some support Nigeria, while others support different countries for different reasons..

For the football itself, a lot is still desired in that respect. That is why, now that the tournament is in the Round of Sixteen, we expect teams to up their games, as there is more motivation and the teams will go all out to win. There is this saying that they have finished the playing and the real competition begins now .

“Although we have witnessed some pretty tough games too and some shocking results like the Nigeria-Madagascar. AFCON so far has been decent

You must have had some disappointing performances at the group stages. By your assessment, where would you say was the high point and the low point of the group stage?

The Madagascar-Nigeria result is the high point so far. Not because other games have not interesting. It was really all about their name, which they have printed in gold.

A section of fans might see it as disappointing but for others, it is a complete unveiling of a new African team coming to the global stage. We have had this over a couple of times in the past. Remember Cape Verde, and at some point we have also seen Burkina Faso rise as well.

We always seem to have an African team come up. Whether or not it was Nigeria’s doing, it didn’t matter. This game was top class. Even qualifying for the tournament showed how far Madagascar football has come.

For Nigerians it will definitely be low point but for many fans here, everybody is looking up to Madagascar now, second only to, probably, hosts Egypt.

 

Seven out of the eight West African teams that began the Nations Cup scaled through to the Round of 16. Does this paint a true picture of African football?

It has always been like that. Increasing the number of participants to 24 or whatever number in the future will always highlight the strength and popularity of football in West Africa. Within every mile, you see football being played and these days, parents have a different orientation which points to the fact that football pays and is now a profession. It is a sport that has been dominated by the West African region in terms of participation but in terms of actual development, North Africa is it.

I visited the ground of an Egyptian football club yesterday; just seeing how much is being invested in football, in sports franchise, because it is not just football, they also have karate, Volleyball, gymnastics, etc. If you went there you would think you were probably in a Chelsea ground or a Real Madrid ground. This is a country that is just four hours away from Nigeria by flight with so much infrastructure. Why on earth would you not perform? as a player? Why won’t you find passionate fans paying any amount to watch players from such set ups? Why on earth won’t they afford talents from West and Central Africa? That is just one aspect of their sporting culture: development and infrastructure. And that is what culminates on the pitch.

The Round of 16 pitches Nigeria and Cameroon. They have a long history of rivalry. Would this come to play when the two giants clash?

These two sets of footballers have a completely different mindset. The only thing they would probably tell you is ‘Oh, we have been eternal rivals’ For these players, it’s much more than that – they want to make a statement and there is no better way of announcing it than beating your fiercest rival. They are going to look at it from the standpoint of, if we could not avoid each other, now that we are here, let’s get it done.

But again if you look at this Nations Cup tie with a lot of players being touted to be on the move from the French Ligue 1 to the English Premier League, La Liga and other European clubs, it is a match that a lot of clubs from outside of Africa would be looking forward to with interest. Some looking forward to cementing deals with who they have been chasing in the transfer market. Beside pride being at stake, beside the two sides wanting to make a statement, some players feel they did not have a good run at the group stage and they really want their talent to shine against their greatest rival. I am definitely going to sit on the fence. However, you can be sure of an exciting game of football. Expect a very high performance from two well defensively drilled sides, having that quality in the final third, because a winner must emerge and someone has to go home. There is no second chance anymore.

For Cameroon they have height at their disposal and they are very good at corners so you can be sure of their aerial power where they are dominant. Some of the scorers have been the unlikely scorers, like you had Omeruo scoring for Nigeria against Guinea. The game will be decided by the team that have more strength that can knock each other out.

Striker have been less lethal in this tournament. Cameroon and Nigeria have scored two goals each from three matches. What would you say of strikers in this tournament in this tournament generally?

I think it is a reflection of European football. Football has changed in Africa in recent times. In time past, it used to really be about attackers Africa used to produce. Now it is about the midfielders, defenders and goalkeepers. It is because of the way the game has really evolved over the years. Too much tactical inputs in the game. The tactics are so tight. So when these players from their prospective clubs come to tournaments they are very drilled.  All about the opposition and the defenders they faced. But if you look at the quality of strikers in these teams, some of them are struggling to have play time in their clubs, so, you might not exactly expect a lot of goals.

Maybe the exposure to playing in other parts of the world is a big credit to Africa because you are seeing a tournament you are not seeing embarrassing scorelines. AFCON is becoming real quality, real tight. Even at the World Cup it was really tight. We are narrowing that gap with European teams. Why we are not having much goals is because of the way the game has evolved. Teams are not conceding and this comes to play at the national team level.

Would you have preferred to be in France covering the Women’s World Cup than being in Egypt, covering AFCON?

If we had the opportunity, we would be everywhere; at the Women’s World Cup, at the Cricket World Cup at the same time. The most important thing is that we have the visibility of women who love sport and who have the knowledge of sport in different positions whether it is as sports administrators or as coaches or whatever. For the BBC as a whole we have different teams covering different tournaments.

I have covered a lot of African Women’s football. I have led that for a long time. Covering men’s tournament as AFCON only makes it bigger, bigger role especially having women in a commentary box in a men’s tournament. Whereas, a lot of times it is said that let women be restricted to women’s sports. But we also saw more male coaches than women at the Women’s World Cup. But now the conversation is like put the right person for the right job, not minding his sex.

So for me, covering a men’s tournament is just amazing, it’s just historical, like I told you. It’s all success at the end, it is all about women working hard at this and being known to be great at certain roles as against, we  want women to occupy certain places because we want women to be there no. This woman is good about her job because she can stand her ground, she has the knowledge about it. So for me, whether it’s women’s World Cup, male World Cup, U-17 or whatever, tournaments for boys or girls or whatever, then I am all for it.

What special has the BBC on offer for their numerous listeners across the world as far as AFCON coverage is concerned?

For our fans out there, where ever they may be, BBC is bringing the AFCON in 13 languages, in Ibo, in Yoruba, in Arabic, Swahili and so forth. I am working closely with those teams. Digitally on all platforms on Twitter, on Instagram and Facebook as well as the TV. They can be sure of up-to-date analysis of the tournament. I also mentioned that I work as a TV presenter with BBC Sport Africa.

We are the ones catering for the stories in this tournament; the Mo Salah look alike in this tournament, children who want to grow up like Mo Salah, football fans who hiked from Cape Town to Cairo; these are the type of stories we bring to BBC Sport Africa.  So besides the match commentaries, analysis and all on our different platforms on our social media on BBC Sport Africa TV every across Africa and our translation in Nigeria, Kenya and Tanzania, we bring all of these features on indigenous stories across the continent, especially from the AFCON. We also have local partnerships with various stations like in Nigeria we have partnership with TVC, STV as well as Anambra.

How has it been hosting BBC Spot Africa one year on?

It has been a dream come true, for the fact that we can tell stories in our own way and for our audiences. It has just been simply amazing. It has been sheer hardwork from me and my team, every week. If you look back at it, as for me it’s been 52 weeks of programmes. And in those programmes you have 200 packages in the last one year; indigenous African stories in the last one year. It has just been incredible.

Viewers can  catch up with the show every Saturday on Tv or online at https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/africa

 

 

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