Award-winning Kenyan sports journalist, Evelyn Watta, is using her vast media experience to mentor young aspiring journalists through the AIPS Youth Reporters Programme.
Watta serves as Vice President of AIPS and is the first African woman to be elected into this prestigious position.
As on-field reporter, Watta has been privileged to breathe the same air with some of the best sports stars at three summer Olympics, World Championships and African Championship Games.
In 2014, she was named the CNN Africa Journalist of the Year, the first female journalist to win the sports category award. In 2015, she was placed on the “Top 40 Under 40 Women in Kenya” list by Business Daily Africa.
Watta began her career over 18 years ago, at Nation Media Group − the largest media group in East and Central Africa.
In recent years, she has broadened her knowledge of the fields of sports administration and sports journalism, venturing into print media.
The Kenyan has since worked across various media platforms, contributing to newspapers, and online and other digital platforms.
Apart from her achievements, Watta has had her fair share of personal challenges as she admits that her mother’s near fatal accident opened her eyes to appreciate life.
Speaking with Celine Abrahams, Watta gives insight into developing a passion for sport and geography at an early stage and her plans to positively impact sports on the continent.
Evelyn, happy New Year and thank you so much for taking time out to chat! How would you describe the past year?
2020 was a whirlwind. It was a year that taught me that sometimes you need and can live your life without a proper plan as long as you are safe and healthy. It taught me to look inwards and the importance of reflections. The year stretched me in ways I had never imagined, challenged my inner and outward strength. I learnt to embrace new possibilities and take up challenges that I had in some way cushioned myself from by living a busy, planned life.
What has been the most challenging for you in terms of having to produce content while sport had been put on hold?
“Being out on the field and interacting with the athletes. I sometimes look at journalism as a job where human interaction is key.” – Award-winning Kenyan sports journalist, Evelyn Watta
Being out on the field and interacting with the athletes. I sometimes look at journalism as a job where human interaction is key. It’s not just about asking questions but following the athletes in action and trying to connect their drive and feelings to their performance.
This bit lacked with the remote interviews. Sometimes it almost felt like a fraudster. You expect an athlete to open up on some intimate details, struggles, share their dreams within minutes of virtual meet up! Face to face interviews help build some familiarity.
Did this period give you time to look back and reflect on how much you achieved so far in your career?
Certainly! As I said before it was a period full of reflection, like stock taking.
2020 was a year of gratitude. Through the uncertainty I was constantly reminded of how blessed I have been in my life and by extension my career. I looked back and wondered what if I had stayed at position “X” I wouldn’t have been stretched enough to know the joys of “Y”. It also made me realize that it was good to fine tune career goals.
Please tell us about where your passion for sport comes from and how you got involved in Television.
Growing up I spent a lot of time with uncles who were obsessed with sport. On TV we didn’t have many sports programs but the few we had ‘Football made in Germany’, NBA highlights and Gillette sport were followed religiously.
They would sit down, watch and analyse the performances and were happy to explain to their curious niece the rules of the games.
“In school I was a sickly kid and it was considered safe to keep me out of sport, so I spent most of the time cheering my mates playing hockey, basketball, cross country, etc.” – Watta speaks on not participating in sport during her school days.
Was it always your dream to be involved in the sport industry?
An uncle of mine was a meteorologist who we called weatherman so on the days he was on duty he would present weather on TV. This would come just after the sports segment during news. I didn’t enjoy watching news then much as it was all politics, but I enjoyed the sports section which was fun as I waited for weather forecast which fuelled my passion for geography as well. So, the two sections I lived for was sport and weather. This is what fuelled my passion.
What is it about your job that continues to fuel your passion to remain in media?
My late granddad always told every person you meet in life has something to teach you. He was a storyteller. Most of what he shared he had picked from speaking to different people. He would happily chat with the charcoal seller, to a top politician.
Looking back, I learnt from him that you can be better by listening to others’ experiences and dreams. This is what I love most about sports media. This is where we get to share dreams and celebrate dreamers. Hard work, dedication, perseverance, passion and teamwork are virtues that we are taught and in sport you get to see first-hand how they contribute to success.
Please tell us about your transition from Broadcast to Print Media and how that process came about.
Sometimes in life you have to be pushed to change. Change is good but the fear of the unknown holds us back. You prefer to stay in a familiar place even when you are not happy just because you have sort of gotten used to surviving the dark side.
“After 10 years of broadcast I craved a new challenge. And, so when I left my first employer after almost a decade there was fear.” – Watta gives insight into finding a new challenge in her career.
It wasn’t the right timing as my mother had a near fatal accident around the same time that ended up weighing heavy on the family financially (medical bills) as she exhausted the family insurance.
My job then offered me the financial security we needed as a family.
And so, when I had to leave unexpectedly it was a bit unnerving. But in hindsight I cherished the free times I had to nurse her and as the eldest child, step in to be the mother to my young siblings.
My dad always told me that in life you have to try and find the good in every situation you face. No matter how difficult or simple, there’s a reason and a lesson. For him it’s always keep the lesson, and move on.
I got a chance to work for another international broadcast based in Nairobi, but I quit after several weeks, it wasn’t the right fit. When I finally got the chance to write for a new online start-up and contribute to some local newspaper, my heart was at peace and I knew this was the right fit.
What are your thoughts on the state of women’s sport in Africa and how can we as the media make a difference to uplift the women’s side of the game?
Sports in most of African countries is still viewed as an extracurricular activity. We admire doctors, lawyers, scientists, journalists, but almost look down on athletes.
Our athletes are only celebrated when they bring glory to the countries. We still haven’t gotten to the point where we happily celebrate their efforts, trials and sacrifice.
I have had the privilege to speak and interview athletes from almost all African nations. Their drive and ambition is admirable. I have spoken to the girl who doesn’t mind bruising her feet running with bare feet to chase gold for her nation, to the martial art athlete who had to borrow his first pair of shoes to board a flight to represent their nation. These are the heroes and patriots.
Africa is still very much a patriarchal society. Even as we slowly begin to embrace and appreciate sport as an industry, women athletes are still struggling for visibility and recognition. Women are still expected to hold on to sport as a pastime in their youth before they get married and start bearing children.
An athlete trying to balance family and sport is almost shunned by the society as they are almost considered selfish and unsettled.
“I remember just a few years ago, it was almost impossible to read a story on a female achiever without the key role the husband or partner has played in their career whether real or imagined.” – Watta speaks on challenges women in sport face.
Success by women who have managed to balance family and sport are often connected to the male figures around them. I remember just a few years ago, it was almost impossible to read a story on a female achiever without the key role the husband or partner has played in their career whether real or imagined. Yet you would read articles on male sporting figures and never know their family and marital status.
This is where the media comes in, to balance and erase these open biases and discrimination. Celebrate the women athletes’ struggles and achievements. Sexist articles, photos and headlines is how we see/saw women’s sport being sold. It was normal to see a few lines on the women’s game of a headline and article dominated by minute to minute analysis of the men’s event.
There were times that women athletes and women teams were doing much better in Kenya in terms of medal haul and qualifications at events. But they would still struggle to command the headlines and attention dedicated to their male colleagues.
How did you come across the gsport4girls initiative?
I can’t quite recall how but I remember what got me hooked. Women athletes were making headlines and their efforts, struggles were being celebrated. We had several portals focused on men but none I knew of dedicated time to women in Africa.
How do you think we as an initiative can improve to benefit women in sport on the continent?
I think this is something that needs to be replicated across countries or at least regions. Work with like-minded parties or individuals who can be able to form similar start-ups in their localities.
What are your career highlights so far?
I think for me the biggest career highlight is whenever I am able to watch an event live. Be it a local football match, to a local athletics meet where some of the best runners sweat it out to a sweaty boxing bout.
I have been lucky, privileged and honoured to breathe the same air with some of the best across sport at three summer Olympics, World Championships and African Championship Games. I have had moments I watch events with tears streaming down my face – who gets paid to watch the world’s best chase glory? These are my highlights.
I have also been honoured to win the CNN Africa journalist of the Year, celebrated as one of the top 40 under 40 women in Kenya years back, served as a Secretary General (first African) for the International Sports Press Association, AIPS, where I currently serve as an elected Vice President. AIPS also gave me a rewarding chance to work with young journalists to mentor them and guide them in their careers through the Young Reporters Programme.
Following the dreams and ambitions of young athletes as they scale their way up their sporting careers for the Olympic Channel has been very rewarding. Getting to follow athletes from the first time they get to dream about ‘going to the Olympics’ and being there to cover them when they finally realize this dream is just fantastic.
Lastly, what is your greatest ambition?
I would love to continue contributing to the development and celebration of sport in one way or another, either through my work as a journalist or an expert in sports administration. African sport is rising, too and it will need us.
Photo 1 caption: Accomplished Kenyan sports journalist Evelyn Watta’s dream is to continue contributing to the development and celebration of sport. Image: Supplied
Photo 2 caption: An integral element of her sports administrator role, Watta is seen in conversation with Olympic marathon champion, Eliud Kipchoge. Photo: Supplied
Photo 3 caption: Watta has won the prestigious CNN Africa journalist of the Year, and is pictured here alongside colleagues, the renowned sports journalist, Mark Gleeson, and Ghana’s Kwabena Yeboah. Photo: Supplied
Photo 4 caption: Watta is further distinguished by her former role as the first African Secretary General, now as Vice President, for the International Sports Press Association, AIPS. Photo: Carlo Pozzoni / AIPS Media
With editing by gsport