As seen on https://www.newsroom.co.nz/lockerroom/
As she did with an oval ball, Honey Hireme-Smiler is leading the way for women behind the mic – this time with league – as Sky Sport strives to make their on-screen voices more reflective of their audiences.
Honey Hireme-Smiler is primed to make history this weekend, believed to be the first woman to commentate an NRL game when she takes the mic for the Warriors’ first home match in almost three years.
Despite her vast knowledge of the game and expertise in front of a camera, the former Kiwi Ferns captain and NRLW player admits she’s still a little nervous.
“History tells us that within the industry, female commentators are often discriminated against and the credibility of females working in sports media is often questioned,” Hireme-Smiler says.
“Some believe ‘female commentators don’t know what they are talking about’ – especially in male dominated sports.”
But more and more female sports experts are proving that dubious assumption wrong on our television screens, with Sky pushing to include more women – especially Māori and Pacific Islander – in their commentary and presenting teams.
Among the six-strong Sky crew covering the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham next month are five expert wāhine – Courtney Tairi, Storm Purvis, Rikki Swannell, Ravinder Hunia and Kristina Eddy (Karl Te Nana is the odd man out).
The move is reflective not only of the current audience for sport in New Zealand, but also who we see out on the field.
Hireme-Smiler, who’s also represented New Zealand in rugby union and sevens, will give her view of the Warriors vs Wests Tigers game on Sunday, alongside former Warriors player Adam Blair and commentator Glen Larmer on Sunday afternoon.
Last weekend she was part of the commentary team at Mt Smart Stadium for the Kiwi Ferns’ decisive 50-12 victory over Mate Ma’a Tonga – her first time calling an international women’s league game.
Hireme-Smiler’s expertise in commentary comes from decades of experience – playing rugby league since the age of five in Pūtaruru, and going on to star in four Rugby League World Cups between 2003 and 2017. She also played for the St George Illawarra Dragons in the inaugural NRLW competition.
“For me I approach [commentary] the same way I would if I were playing in a test match,” she says ahead of this weekend.
“My preparation gives me the confidence to call what I see, to relay those messages so our viewers are interested, informed and hopefully excited and entertained.”
Having commentated on rugby and sevens, Hireme-Smiler hopes to bring her own spin to the league commentary box, balancing her passion for the game with her cool head.
“I think it’s important for passionate fans and viewers to remember that in the intensity of an 80 minute footy game, these athletes are human too and to expect plenty of good moments alongside the bad ones,” says Hireme-Smiler, who will be in the box for all of the Warriors’ home games this season.
“It’s my job as part of the commentary team to promote the game, the players and entertain our viewers.”
Sky Sport recently launched their ‘See the Possible’ campaign, a commitment to women in sport.
The campaign is not only to promote and showcase more women’s sport, but also to support the wāhine telling those stories – writers, commentators, producers and presenters.
For some of the Sky team, it’s a representation of the direction Sky is moving in, with a steadily growing number of women working both on screen and behind the scenes.
Hireme-Smiler is also grateful to those who paved the way.
“I’ve had the opportunity to work alongside and learn from some of the best female hosts and commentators in Aotearoa,” she says.
“Sky continues to give current and past female athletes opportunities to give it a go and I really enjoy sharing and supporting them too. I enjoy hearing a wide range of commentary, expertise and opinions on sport across all codes from other women.
“Sky is invested in changing the face of what sports commentary looks like by taking a more diverse approach – more female voices will attract a wider audience.”
There’s no lack of women waiting in the wings either, Johnson saying all it takes is someone giving them the chance.
“That’s the biggest thing, just actually opening the door,” she says. “We’ve all been ready and waiting, but now we’re actually making the effort to do it.”