They say hard work pays off… And that is certainly the case with sports broadcaster, Mahreen Chenia, who recently beat off stiff competition to win the 2015 Sports Journalist of the Year Award, at the Gauteng Sport Awards.
Chenia has been involved in sport for most of her life – first as a young footballer, and almost as soon as she could, dabbling in sports media.
She emerged in 2009 and credits SuperSport for her initial exposure to the industry and the expertise she gained, during her time with the World of Champions.
The accomplished professional has interviewed some of the most outstanding sports people, covering international events including the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Commonwealth Games and the Olympics.
These days, Chenia can be found hosting her own sport show on ANN7, which she describes as her dream job!
Chenia is a big supporter of women’s sport, and often shines the spotlight on our female athletes on her Game ON! show (Channel 405 on the DStv package).
Shortly after scooping the top accolade at the Gauteng Sport Awards, Chenia spoke to gsport about how career in sports broadcasting, who inspires her, and how she negotiates her way as a woman in sport.
Thank you so much. It came as quite a shock to me, but I am extremely happy and grateful. We work really hard, and to get recognised at such an event among your peers is really something special.
How did you rate your chances and the candidates nominated alongside you for this award?
I didn’t. I started in the Industry when some of these Journalists were already established and doing big things, so even to be considered alongside them was massive for me. Especially Thomas Mlambo – who is a legend in the game.
How have your colleagues at ANN7 responded to your great news?
I got a loud and proud standing ovation when I was back at the office on Monday, which made me feel very appreciated. We are a new station that is still finding our feet, so this came as a huge motivation for us all. We want to keep on working hard because our work is getting recognised. Its bigger and better things for us all.
What have been some of your career highlights that would have caught the attention of the Awards judges?
I have covered events such as the 2010 FIFA WC, AFCON, AWC and the run up to the RWC, Olympic and Commonwealth Games. I have had so many in my short career. I have interviewed some of the most awe-inspiring people and that’s what I love most about this job.
But in the past year or so I have been doing a lot of stories on transformation, development of the smaller sporting codes and young athletes who are making it big in the country and overseas. These have been very close to me.
The story of William Makogo who comes from Diepsloot and made it into a professional team. A young team from rural Eastern Cape getting onto a plane for the first time in the Danones’ Nations Cup. Sipho and Kholo Montsi, whose father had to move to Joburg to give them an opportunity to play the sport they love, at a high level.
It’s the stories of fencing in townships, Songezo Jim being the first black South African to ride a Grand Tour, etc., that keeps me loving what I do, and just being able to tell them is a highlight for me.
I must admit that my favourite interview with a “big” athlete was with Joost van der Westhuizen. He was big physically and had an intelligent rugby mind, and to see him deteriorate with MND is very sad. But that old Joost charm and charisma was still there. I asked him, “Do you think the Bulls can win the Super Rugby?” He answered, “Please ask me an intelligent question!” and burst out laughing.
All these show why we in the industry love it, it’s about perseverance, being loyal, being tough yet sensitive, rising up from the ashes, being the best you can be but mostly being proudly South African.
I joined ANN 7 in 2013 as a reporter and Anchor. It has been a tough journey with long hours and hard work to be where I am today. While I anchor midday sports news, I am EP and Host of our daily sports show called Game ON!.
I took over the show in October 2013 and have been busy with the help of Khuliso Nemarimela (Game ON! Producer) and Sports Editor Edwin Kgaswe, building the show which we hope will rival some of the best in the country (by the way, Game ON! was a finalist next to TNL with Marawa and Sport@10 at the GP Sports Awards).
We cover a wide variety of sporting codes, highlight up and coming and current athletes and we often debate topical issues in SA sport. The show has really become my baby and to see it grow (as I have grown with it) makes me really proud and really excited for what’s to come.
You have shown your support for women in sport on the show. Why do you enjoy supporting your female athletes in particular?
If we are not going to promote our own, who is? But it is something that is really close to my heart. I come from a family of strong women. My mom specifically is a lawyer and advocates for equality, being part of the Human Rights commission at NWU. She instilled that in me from young, to be independent, dynamic and fight for our rights as women.
I also played football while I was at school and never even considered it as a career option, and where I am now I can see how women in sport are developing, and regret that I didn’t pursue it. So I try and promote women in sport, because I want others doubting their abilities or thinking their aren’t opportunities out there, to know that there is a future for us in different spheres of sport.
How did you get into sports broadcasting?
I always had an inquisitive mind so I started with media work during my schooling career, I worked at Channel Islam, did interviews at SAFM, presented at ITV and shadowed a number of media professionals.
Once I qualified from Rhodes University in 2009, I applied for a job at SuperSport. I was given an opportunity to learn from some of the best in sports broadcasting and I took it with open arms. I was given a chance to show my reporting abilities during the FIFA World Cup, AFCON and AWC among other big events. I was also given a chance to be part of the PSL News team.
I am forever grateful for the opportunity at SuperSport, I was trained in world-class facilities around the best journalists who were always willing to advise and help you be better. I joined ANN 7 three years later.
What were the early years like?
I remember often being the only female in football press conferences, sitting alone at the back. Sometimes when I asked a question the male Journalists would say, “Oh no”, and that was very de-motivating. But once they got to know me and saw my abilities as a journalist, we were on the same playing field and there was more respect. Things are slightly better now.
There are a lot more females coming into the industry and a lot more opportunities. If you wear make up or dress up nicely you are still seen as ‘just a face’ and not a credible journalist. We still have to work extra hard to sound credible or gain support. There are very few female analysts, and that is something we need to change.
Is the environment still tough to negotiate as a woman?
Things have certainly improved and I think ladies like Cynthia Tshaka, Kass Naidoo and Carol Tshabalala paved the way for us. They made it easier for us to be accepted and respected. As I said we still have a long way to go, but we are doing it, doing it in style and in high heels… no man can do that 🙂
The most important person is my mom. She is always giving sound advice, a shoulder to cry on and most importantly constructive criticism. She is taught me to be strong, professional and humble and also to believe in myself and fight for my place in society and that set the foundation for my career.
Leading ladies like Kass Naidoo and Carol Tshabalala have always been kind to give me advice to keep me going. My current Sports Editor, Edwin Kgaswe has helped me mature into the journalist and anchor I am. He has developed my abilities and thinking and I am grateful for that. I have certainly seen a change in my confidence and abilities since working under him.
Also the people who gave me my first opportunity, like Docky Dockrat and Alvin Naicker – they saw something in me at the time that I didn’t.
Who are your female sporting role models?
I mentioned those female broadcasters who I look up to, but in terms of sport I look up to ladies like Fran Hilton-Smith, Natasha Tsichlas, Ntambi Ravele amongst others. They set the standard for SA sportswomen, broadcasters and administrators. They fought through barriers of sexism to make their mark and to be taken seriously…
May we be able to continue in their footsteps and put women in sport on the map, and be a force to be reckoned with to change the future of SA sport.
What is your advice to aspiring sports journalists?
My advice to young journalists would be: The only thing that can stand in your way is you. Do not ever think that you cannot or you are not good enough because someone else told you so. Work hard, be confident and love what you do, be strong and certain and you will get to where you want to.
What is your dream job?
I am living it. I have always wanted to host a show, telling stories of those that can’t themselves, stories that matter and proudly South African stories. I would like to build on it and it take it to a new level so the show can rival the best in SA. I also want to help change the lives of young sportsmen and women through my work. It doesn’t get more rewarding than that.
Photo 1 caption: Mahreen Chenia interviews international track star Caster Semenya in the lead-up to the 2015 SPAR gsport Awards, as host of ANN 7’s ‘Game ON!’ sports television show. Photo: gsport
Photo 2 caption: “The show has really become my baby, and to see it grow makes me really proud and really excited for what’s to come,” says Chenia of her evening sports show, Game ON! Photo: Supplied
Photo 3 caption: Chenia’s efforts have earned her many plaudits, walking away most recently with the 2015 Sports Journalist of the Year Award, at the Gauteng Sport Awards. Photo: Supplied
Photo 4 caption: Chenia has been edified by the opportunity focus on her industry’s unheard stories, focussing on transformation, and the development of the smaller sporting codes and young athletes who are making it big. Photo: Supplied
Photo 5 caption: In addition to Chenia’s duties as Executive Producer and Host of ANN 7’s daily sports show called Game ON, she also anchor midday sports news. Photo: Supplied