As the sporting world continues to evolve, behind every successful tournament lies a dedicated team of individuals working tirelessly to ensure its smooth operation. Among these unsung heroes is Natasha Petersen, 2023 Momentum gsport Awards Telkom Woman of the Year winner!
Petersen is an Events and Logistics Manager, who has played a pivotal role in organising major tournaments such as the FIFA Men’s and Women’s World Cup’s and the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup.
Her career in event management has taken her to new heights, and she exudes a passion for her work that is truly infectious. With each World Cup experience, she embraced fresh challenges and contributed to the event’s operational teams in diverse ways.
From overseeing the venue logistics operations at Lusail Stadium, the pinnacle of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, to leading community engagement and marketing efforts during the ICC T20 Women’s World Cup in South Africa, Petersen has left an indelible mark on the global sporting stage.
In a recent interview conducted by gsport’s Lungile Matsuma, we delve into Petersen’s inspiring journey, her experience at the Momentum gsport Awards and her remarkable accomplishment of winning the Telkom Woman of the Year Award.
Natasha, thank you so much for chatting to us! Over a week ago, you were honoured with the Telkom Woman of the Year accolade at the 2023 Momentum gsport Awards. What does this recognition mean to you?
It is a reward for the sacrifices that my family have made for me and with me, that allows me to follow this path. I receive and accept the Telkom Woman of the Year Award with such a full heart and being grateful that I can continue telling my story and inspiring young girls and women to persist.
Because I do not want to be an exception. We have a responsibility to multiply the stories. The stories of those who are overcoming obstacles sometimes greater than themselves.
To be recognised in this way. To own my success. This is huge!Success however, isn’t achieved independently, so I do want to thank all those mentors, collaborators, colleagues and supporters who have contributed to my journey thus far.
Can you tell us more about your role as an Events and Logistics manager in organising major tournaments such as the FIFA World Cup’s and the ICC T20 Women’s World Cup?
I love the phase that I am currently in. My career journey is evolving. The Stadiums, facilities and the sporting action, combined are the centrepiece of the operation of sports tournaments with a large amount of work being done behind the scenes to get the stadiums and facilities to the required state of readiness.
Each of my three World Cup experiences were unique, because for each of them I fulfilled a different role, and contributed to the event operational teams in a different way.
In Qatar for the FIFA World Cup 2022 (Football), I was responsible for the planning delivery, and supervision of the Venue Logistics operations at Lusail Stadium, the biggest stadium with a capacity of 80,000+. Lusail Stadium also hosted the final game and Closing Ceremony of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
For the ICC T20 Women’s World Cup (Cricket) hosted here at home in South Africa, I was leading on Community Engagement & Marketing for the Boland region and supporting CSA initiatives.
And, I recently returned home from my role as the Infotainment Technical Manager for the FIFA Women’s World Cup (Football) in New Zealand and Australia, working across all 10 stadiums. Infotainment is the merging between information and entertainment, presented in a fun way that is fast-paced, and integrated with flashy graphics, music, sound effects. Information-based content that also includes entertainment in an effort to enhance the spectator experience, whether in-stadium or watching from the comfort of their homes.
How did you initially get involved in event management, and what motivates you in this field?
Growing up, my family was actively involved in church events, so I learned the lessons of team work and putting together events from a young age. I’ve always loved working with people and have had a passion for music and sport which I was blessed enough to be able to turn it into a career.
It’s been a journey of more than20 years with an initial focus on music and now that has moved into a focus on the sports arena and contributing to projects in various roles and capacities.
What motivates me are the opportunities, and my ability to work with diverse clients and project teams in a collaborative work environment.
Seeing the efforts of all your hard work coming together successfully, and realising that you, along with the project team, have made the event special for both the athletes/sports people and spectators, is a highly rewarding feeling.
What were some of the challenges you faced in organising these high-profile tournaments, and how did you overcome them?
Playing a role in the operational side of events means that I am faced with perpetual challenges due to the sheer volume of details that need to be managed and monitored. Perhaps it is knowing that the events we deliver have a definite end date; and no ability to do-overs of what did not go perfectly as planned. No matter how detailed our best-laid plans, it is difficult to have contingencies in place to cover every possibility for what may go awry.
Your response to arising challenges, managing stress levels, and helping to steer the team towards finding and implementing solutions or resolutions can be tricky. So, you take a deep breath and do your best!
Trusting in one’s own abilities, coping with stress, integrating yourself into a new team, and focussing on the contribution you are making to the project – these are the key reasons that one must constantly work at finding and maintaining a balance between work, social and wellness, both physical and mental.
On a personal front, I always have conflicting feelings when I leave home or spending time away from my family and friends. It’s really tough! But there is also excitement to embrace new experiences and opportunities.
When travelling for work, a critical element is the need be mindful of our attitudes and behaviours, and be respectful of cultures and beliefs that are different from our own. If you make the effort and your approach is flexible, then adapting and settling in, allows you to start enjoying your experience.
In your opinion, what are the key ingredients for a successful event, especially on such a grand scale?
Many countries worldwide use sports and mega events as a tool to stimulate both their national and local economies and to provide a platform to showcase the specific or range of sports codes. The diverse definitions of event success however are determined by the hosting countries, sports federation guidelines and the various stakeholders.
Event attendance, logistics, media coverage, utilising the power of social media engagement, effective marketing, sponsorship, are all contributing factors to making a successful event.
In addition to that, there has to be a focus on providing and offering memorable experiences to the spectators or participants. People want an all-encompassing experience.
What lessons have you learned throughout your career in event management that you believe contributed to your success?
I have tried to be consistent with what I do, and have focussed on always enhancing and improving the value that I can bring to a project.
Patience often provides us with possibilities, I think. And often you need to ‘wait’ for the right opportunities to present themselves.
Prejudice hurt me many times along the way. But my certainty of where I wanted to go and what I wanted to experience, never let me give up.
The tricky thing is maintaining work-life balance especially as a woman, wife, mom. It can be done, but it’s not easy to do long-term. I think that it’s all about making room for what matters the most. And you should create a circle of support around you and ask for help when you need it.
To find that balance, you must let your intuition guide you, because this balance looks different for every woman. There is no right or wrong here; you figure out what suits you the most and work with it.
Are there any upcoming projects or events that you are particularly excited about working on?
I have worked very hard to get to the point where I can represent on a global arena as a very proud South African female of colour. The girl from Retreat (in Cape Town) who has just contributed to three successive World Cup events. I still have a list of projects that I would love to be a part of and contribute to. I unfortunately can’t let the cat out of the bag just yet about where to next…
How do you continually stay motivated and inspired in such a demanding industry?
Alove of all things creative and a passion for music and sport and live events, allows me to approach each day with passion and purpose. It has been a tough road to navigate but such a rewarding experience.
To be a part of the action live, to have contributed in some small way to creating and putting my own mark on these global sporting experiences – sometimes I have just stood on the side of the field of play and said to myself “Wow, look how far you have come!”
And of course, thank you to all the strong, smart, kind women I’m lucky to work with, collaborate with, and call my friends. To them I want to say: I see you. I acknowledge you. I support you. I celebrate you.
Photo 1 Caption: Events and Logistics Manager Natasha Petersen pictured during her acceptance speech after receiving the Telkom Woman of the Year accolade at the 2023 Momentum gsport Awards at the Wanderers Club in Johannesburg on Tuesday, 12 September. Photo: gsport