Interview: Abi Griffiths
If there’s sport on TV, it’s pretty likely that Abi Griffiths has, at some point, covered it. From ESPN to the BBC, from motorsport to rugby, Abi has reported on it all. There aren’t exactly an abundance of female sports presenters around, so we wanted to catch up with Abi to get her views on the industry, how we can get more women involved in sport and how she keeps up to date with all the sports she has to cover.
- Tell us a bit about your own personal sporting background
I got a sports scholarship to the very sporty Millfield school (credited for many an Olympic athlete)
Whilst there, I competed in the National school athletics, specialising in 200m. I was super quick until everyone grew and I…stayed at 5 foot!!
I also played Hockey for the West of England, spending Sundays at the All England training grounds in Bisham Abbey.
I choose Drama at Loughborough University to combine my 2 loves; sport and performance.
- How did you get into presenting?
I first got a taste of presenting whilst at University, when I was shortlisted for a CBBC presenting job. I remember wearing an all in one denim jumpsuit whilst reading out the Birthday cards. I had crazy nerves and spoke at a million miles an hour but I knew then it was the job for me.
After Uni, I enrolled in presenting courses in Sydney, Australia. I got my first job on a music show after suggesting that I had worked on MTV in London. I knew I could do it, I just needed an opening and sometimes a little cheekiness doesn’t harm anyone.
- You cover so many different sports, is it hard to keep up?
When I first started covering sports I was nervous that I didn’t know the intricacies well enough and that I would get found out. Now, I don’t pretend to be an expert, but put the focus on those who are. I will never fully understand the mechanics of a car to make it go faster for example, but those racing or working on one absolutely do. My buzz is extracting that info and passion from them.
That said, I am a stickler for research, even if it is just getting to grips with the vocab and culture of a particular sport. It aids my confidence and most importantly, helps create the respect and rapport with the athletes.
- Many of the sports you cover are predominantly male (motor racing, rugby, boxing) What do you think can be done to encourage more women to get involved in these types of sport?
This is a really good question, and one that constantly niggles. I have interviewed the women’s England rugby team and they are phenomenal, such an impressive track record, much better than our male side (seven Six Nations triumphs for a start). I’m sure, as with most things, it is down to encouragement at a young age from parents, friends and the schooling system. There is still a stigma around women doing these ‘male-type’ sports but it’s improving all the time, as is the numbers of women competing in them. Having role models that the media get excited about helps, but it’s about taking small positive steps and breeding a culture of encouragement.
- Would you like to see women in sport given more airtime? What do you think needs to change in order to do that?
Absolutely! I think there are lots of contributing factors that needs to happen to shift the focus onto women’s sport; press getting excited about our athletes, celebrating their success to infiltrate the image of female sport to young girls, who in turn may then be inspired to take up the sport.
I don’t want to stand on my wee soap box, but think about what we can all do to promote female sport. Let’s encourage the trend, become greater fans, go out and watch female sport and buy into the teams and their stars, which as a result may turn the heads of the TV channels. I’d love to say the TV coverage should come first, but then that would be me standing on my soapbox chanting a chicken and egg scenario.
- You have to be pretty active and adventurous in your presenting role, what’s the craziest thing you have had to do on the job?
Oooh it would be a close shave between free falling from 15,000 feet for ‘The National Sky Diving Championships’, or the absolute Bridget Jones moment insanely challenging an Canadian ice hockey player in RedBull’s Crushed Ice (a downhill, cross-country ice track!!) Luckily I was dressed up as a fully decked out munchkin so I rebounded off the barriers! Snowboarding an Olympic size half pipe, assailing down a frozen waterfall, being harnessed to an ariel wall in a rehearsal for the opening ceremony of The Dubai World Cup (horse-racing), tackling England rugby forwards, sitting in the passengers seat of a Drifting World champ and a car stunt driver. Yeah there has been one or two hairy moments – hence why I am also a devotee of yoga!
- Is there a sport you’d really like to cover that you don’t?
Athletics! I’d also love to be part of the Ski Sunday team; about time they had a female in that line-up! Also anything that Red Bull do; they excell at marrying sport and entertainment and maybe one that you could hopefully, possibly, dare I say it…expect a bit of sunshine, like surfing! I spend so much time fighting the elements, I’ve given up styling my hair.
- What’s your favourite sport?
I’m a sucker for any major Championship, football, rugby, tennis, and I get hugely involved in the sports I cover. When you start knowing the person behind the helmet or boxing gloves; the sacrifices they’ve made and what’s at stake, the competition takes on a much bigger meaning and it’s the emotion of sport that really gets me.
- We know you’re a big runner. What’s your next big running goal?
The illusive 1:30 half marathon, 3:30 full marathon. I know they are just numbers but if I come across the finish line at the Amsterdam Half to a 1:30 clock, then I know that I trained the hardest and ran the fastest I ever have… and there is something sweet about that.
- What 3 things make a great athlete?
Focus, determination and belief.
- What excites you most about having the Olympic Games on home turf?
So many things, but the fact I’m presenting Beach Volleyball and the Hockey is pretty high up there! No seriously, I think it is absolutely amazing for sport in this country and I hope we ride the wave of excitement and inspiration.
It’s so easy to get bogged down in the less positive implications, namely what a nightmare public transport will be, but sport will be happening at every turn; people that have dedicated their life to being the best they can possibly be and that mantra, whether you are a die-hard sports fan or not, is mind-blowing.
- Any advice to young women looking to marry their love of sport and broadcasting?
Go out and get involved. Don’t let the thought intimate you, start with sports that are happening on your doorstep. It could be a local football game in the park. Start reporting on it, get a friend to film you…as with most things, practise is key and when you start, you are setting the dial to your future dreams. Put the content out there, online and to producers, a little research and it is very easy to find those contact details. As soon as you know that you have the confidence and ability, put a price on your service, getting paid for what you love is the best.
In short; be focused, be determind and have 100% belief!