An illustrious career spanning nearly two decades has given Tina Sharma Tiwari a lot to say about breaking down barriers, balancing demanding professional expectations and family, and overcoming ‘imposter’ syndrome in sports.
Journalism was a way to get into sports journalism. To be honest, I was not interested in any other aspect of journalism at that time, other than sports. I had always been obsessed with sports and at some point in my late teens, I realised I was never going to be good enough to be a professional athlete! So, I considered some options like sports medicine and sports management, but then decided to go for journalism, because I guess I felt I had more skills suited for that.
“Senior female mentors, even if they’re not directly or officially mentors, are so important in shaping your career.”
With all the confidence and swagger of a 21-year-old, I had an interview with the editor-in-chief (Vir Sanghvi) of the Hindustan Times and convinced him to offer me a job on the sports desk. He had actually suggested I would be a better fit for the city features supplement, because I happen to also have a degree in fashion design. After a few false starts, I’m still very grateful for the break Vir Sanghvi gave me.
A woman in sports journalism in early 2000s India: breaking barriers or swimming in quicksand?
A bit of both. Just by being there, you’re breaking barriers, and back then there were so few of us women doing that that it was a statement. And it was really hard; during one of my early job interviews, the sports editor asked me if I wanted to be a sports journalist only to meet male sports stars.
I mean, can you imagine a guy being asked if he wanted to be a sports reporter only to meet female athletes? It was just so insulting and humiliating. And the only reason I was asked that question is because I’m a woman.
The silver lining
“I was constantly fighting for my stories to get published with a byline in the early days. The editor of the features section of the Sunday newspaper was so supportive and could see that the sports editor was actively killing my stories, so she started publishing all my exclusives and interviews in her Sunday edition. She was so instrumental in my career, because I got the majority of my bylines during my first six to 10 months thanks to her.”
A novel experience
“When I started in TV, international consultants from Fox and the BBC were helping us set up the channel (at India Today). They thought it was really interesting, a novelty, that we were going to have a female sports anchor. So I actually got the break because of the apparent novelty factor. It may not have happened in the best possible way but I was glad for it! And if I not been able to do my job well, I wouldn’t have lasted 15 years in the business.
The environment was actually completely gender neutral and that had a lot to do with the leadership. I grew rapidly and became sports editor within two years. It was a period in my life where being a woman had no bearing on how my work or competence were perceived.”
“It was such an insulting experience to be told that you’re not going to be able to do the job as well as a man, because you’re a woman who’s had a child.”
The mother of all dilemmas
“Unfortunately, after my first stint as a TV journalist, came one of my worst experiences. When I had my first child, instead of taking maternity leave, I resigned, because the (mandatory) three months leave wasn’t going to be enough for me. I wanted to give my baby more time so I opted to stay home for a year and half.
When I returned to work, the leadership had changed, along with the direction and work culture. We had a new editor-in-chief, who informed me that I was not going to be sports editor again, because I was a mother and therefore my commitment and dedication to work would not be the same as before. They didn’t think I was up for it anymore. That’s how f****d up it was. And I was not in a position at the time to say no, because I needed to get back to work.”
A level playing field
“At Times Now (a 24-hour English news channel), I forayed into political journalism, which turned out to be so interesting! I worked directly under one of the most controversial figures in India, Arnab Goswami and I absolutely loved it. The pressure was always high and the work environment extremely tense, but Arnab as an editor-in-chief was 100% gender blind. It was absolutely equal footing; the playing field was level for everyone. And that’s what we need; if women can have that level playing field, we don’t need more, because we know how to do our jobs.”
“Political journalism was challenging, interesting, and a peak in my career, but after a few years, I missed sport. It was not entirely possible to go back to being a sports journalist after being a prime time political anchor, because that would have seemed like a ‘demotion’, and I also felt that I had spent so many years being a sports journalist, that I’d ‘been there, done that’.
And by then what I really wanted to do was actually work in sport; to work with these international organisations that run sport. I was really interested in the actual governance of sport and youth sport, and how grassroots sport is run, so I packed my bags and moved to Lausanne for the AISTS Master’s in Sport Administration. After that, I started at the International University Sports Federation (FISU) and haven’t looked back.”
“I’ve done it myself! Imposter syndrome creeps up on you without realizing it. So my advice would be to actively guard against it. Make sure you constantly remind yourself that you deserve to be here because nobody is handing out freebies in the world.”
On avoiding the imposter syndrome.
“This subconscious bias that exists in this male-dominated industry, most women will agree, means you always end up working twice/thrice as hard, in order to prove yourself.”
The elephant in the room - COVID-19 and sport events
“COVID-19 has been a real challenge for the sports industry, as it has been for many others. We (FISU) had to cancel about 30 of our events. We had a really packed comms calendar this year, and suddenly in March, it was wiped clean, and then we had to go back to the drawing board and really come up with ways to keep our audiences engaged and interested.
That required a lot of creative thought, a lot of online campaigns. It actually meant getting in touch directly with some of our student athletes and using them to create more original, more authentic campaigns and content. So it’s been nerve wracking because you’re constantly having to produce something from nothing. And it’s been demanding, but ialso been very interesting and a massive learning curve for me.”