Mpho Letsholonyane (neé Maboi) has become one of the most recognisable faces in sports broadcasting.
In an industry slowly becoming receptive to female sportscasters, Letsholonyane has become a trusted voice on the touchline with various SABC sports shows, as a sports presenter and as a part of the Fresh Breakfast show on Metro FM.
She’s a consummate professional and a pleasure to experience.
While we’re in the thick of World Cup football, recovering from some of the scariest score lines thus far, we thought it would be dope to catch up with Mpho on her passion for football and life.
In an interview in the past, you revealed that your love for sport grew because it was something you could share with your father.
Since then, you’ve come far in building a visible and reputable brand for yourself as a sportscaster. As you’ve got older and become a professional, what’s kept you pushing to become one of football’s leading personalities?
What keeps you passionate about sport?
This is honestly a simple one for me. Sport is highly unpredictable and keeps one on one’s toes, either as a broadcaster or even as a fan. Nothing is ever cast in stone and I enjoy the adrenaline of it all. I also have a very sporting family, from my husband to my kids. Sport is part of my life in every way. I can’t run away from it.
There are a number of women who’ve reached the top in sports, from professional sports women to those in the technical spaces and other areas. But the issue of gender equity persists, as in (a) getting the necessary support and recognition for the sporting codes and the women in them, and (b) allowing women to enter arenas such as journalism and, by extension, broadcasting. How do we move this agenda forward in a meaningful way?
You know, this is an agenda that will unfortunately not change as long as we have women who are okay with maintaining the patriarchal status quo when they get into positions of power, or who are content with being in positions of power but are not interested in changing things for the rest of us.
The other thing is that our society, from the fans to the decision-makers in the broadcast space, still don’t see the value of women in sport.
Just recently, Banyana and even the Momentum Proteas were playing, but none of their games were being shown. People will say there’s no sponsorships, yet how will the sponsors come when we don’t show the games?
We just have to push - eventually the powers that be will have no option BUT to see us because we are not going anywhere.
I always tell ladies wanting to get into sport that they need not despair when the battles become tough, because the battles we fight today are not just our own but are for every woman who will come after
What are some of the misconceptions/stereotypes, if any, when you are a female sportscaster? Challenges?
The usual: that you don’t know what you’re doing. Fortunately I’ve moved past that. My challenge now is to be seen as an equal to my male counterparts.
When we get to a point where a broadcaster is a broadcaster no matter the gender, then I will be a happy woman.
Be recognised based on your strength as opposed to you gender.
Russia 2018: which players are you looking forward to seeing, what countries are you backing and why?
I’m obsessed with Mo Salah of Egypt. Also, at the moment, I’m quite impressed with how Neymar seems to be coming back stronger from his injury.
Which country am I backing? I’ve got a few.
Germany have a great young squad who play like a well-oiled machine. German engineering at its best. Brazil also have a young squad and I think they’ll go far.
Although Tite has had to chop and change his squad due to injuries, they want that 6th title. Determination is always a huge plus for me.
You are also married to a footballer. This sometimes elicits, from the not-so-polite broader public, a sentiment that you got here because of him. How do you manage this rather crass commentary on your successes as a professional?
I’m always blown away by this because he found me in this space. Besides, having someone in sport as my partner doesn’t have to be a bad thing. For me it’s a plus. I can go home and discuss work with a professional who gives me his on and off the field viewpoint.
I learn a lot from him, actually. I’d be less than smart to not use this to my advantage.
So people can talk. I’m over it and never pay such talk any mind. It’s not worth it besides sowing seeds of doubt in me. I don’t have the energy for that.
How do we as sports lovers get involved in growing women’s sporting codes? And supporting women sports professionals?
We need to show a lot more support whenever we know there’s women’s sport playing anywhere in the country. I wish the media (myself included) would cover women’s sport more. Make it mainstream. Then the battle will be half won.
What lessons have you learnt about yourself personally because of your line of work?
I’ve learnt to be patient in my growth as both a person, a woman in a man’s world and also as a broadcaster. It hasn’t been an easy journey but I’ve learnt that when the time is right, things always fall into place.
What makes your work rewarding and fulfilling?
Everything! I love the adrenalin of it all. I enjoy how sport brings people from all walks of life together, I get to travel and most importantly, I never feel like I’m working.
What could be better?
* Catch Mpho every Monday to Friday from 6-9am on the Fresh Breakfast on MetroFM and on SABC 1 for the duration of the World Cup, and beyond.