Born and raised in Athens, Greece, Elsa Arapi studied philosophy, theatre and scriptwriting and saw her future in the arts, having worked for a film festival and film production company upon graduation. She thought it would be great to be involved in the Athens 2004 Olympic Summer Games and worked for the host broadcaster for two years, before roles at the Turin 2006 Olympic Winter Games and many events after that, mainly FIFA World Cups and UEFA Euros. Since 2019 she has focused on promoting gender equality in sports broadcasting on- and off-screen through the EBU Women’s Sport Initiative.
It looks like you have two roles at EBU, can you tell us a bit about how this came to be?
I was hired to do sports rights for football in 2016 and two years later I got involved with the staff gender equality focus group. It’s something I am very passionate about so when we decided to launch the initiative on women’s sport, I think our management felt that I was a natural fit for the role.
What are the goals of the Women in Sport project and from where did the push for this originate?
The initiative aims to drive increased coverage of women’s sport, a bias-free portrayal of women athletes as well as promote gender equality in the sports units of our members across roles and hierarchies.
It’s part of an overarching effort at the EBU to promote gender equality coupled with a strong belief in the business case for women’s sport. We see immense potential in women’s sport and we want to make sure our members reap the benefits of its growth.
What’s been the biggest change that you’ve seen for women in this industry since you started?
When it comes to sports broadcasting, the change is noticeable. In the beginning we were speaking mostly to deaf ears. A couple of years into the project people were paying attention, asking questions and engaging more with our programs. In this past year, the third since our launch, I’ve seen members volunteer information about how they are developing women’s sport in their programming, others have started setting targets and measuring and a couple even asked for tailor-made workshops for their editorial and production teams. It’s not perfect but the progress is visible and this is very gratifying for us.
And conversely, what are the challenges that still need to be addressed?
Culture is a big obstacle in what we are trying to achieve with women’s sport. Gender bias is very hard to break and there are territories where, for example, women’s football is not something that will be shown on TV.
We have also seen that we cannot have one-size-fits-all solutions for the EBU territory, which is so large and so diverse. To address these specificities we are setting up regional working groups, with mentors who represent similar organisations in terms of cultural background, size, capabilities etc. so that the solutions we propose are more impactful and more transformative.
What does a typical day/week/event look like for you?
On a typical week work fluctuates between 40 to 45 hours, and I spend about 15 hours studying or attending lectures for my master’s programme. My most precious time is the time I spend with my daughter, even if it’s driving her to football, classes and all those things kids do that make their lives as busy as ours.
What’s your favourite part of your job?
The women’s sport initiative.
What advice would you give your younger self, that you wish you’d known when starting out?
Those things that are going to come your way that you’ll think you can’t do, you can.
Who has been influential in your career, a guiding light, if you will?
I’ve never had a mentor or role model as such but I am lucky to be surrounded by brilliant, accomplished women who are both an inspiration and a source of confidence for me. Female camaraderie can be a powerful thing.
Is there any other job or industry that you’d like to explore or that fascinates you?
A couple of years ago I decided to pursue a graduate degree in International Relations (out of intellectual curiosity) and I have become fascinated with it. I don’t see it as a distinct career path but there are linkages between my studies and what I do when it comes to policy, advocacy and sports diplomacy and that’s worth exploring.
What are the key skills (hard or soft) required to work in your role/industry?
Eye for detail, internal and external stakeholder management, ability to work in a multicultural community. After two long years of covid, humour, patience and empathy are also more important than ever.
How has Covid affected your job and the way you work?
There’s been the good and the bad, as with everything else. Working from home has given me a lot of flexibility in organising my day and it’s been easier to engage with people due to the absence of travel and commutes which took up so much of their time. Attending events has become much more complicated and cumbersome with the different medical protocols, continuous testing and all the logistical challenges that come with each event’s/country’s restrictions.
What do you do to stay motivated and inspired?
I am inspired by sharp minds and brave hearts and motivated by instances of sexism, because it reminds me that we shouldn’t be complacent — there is still a long way to go for women in the industry.
How do you manage your time and competing priorities?
Pursuing a very demanding academic programme with a full-time job and a family makes insane demands on my time. My day starts very early and finishes very late, with a strict schedule of what I do when. Most of the time that works, but other times it doesn’t, and that’s OK. I am moving away from the ‘do all, be all’ mindset that is failing so many women. Lately, I am making a conscious effort to schedule things for myself during the day, things I enjoy doing, even if it’s something small or something I do for a short amount of time.