Goal! A woman sportscaster in Gaza

The Gaza Strip is generally considered more conservative than other parts of the Palestinian Territories. So it was no small feat for 35-year-old Nelly Al-Masri to be accepted by her male peers as the first female sportscaster. MENASSAT spoke with Al-Masri about her experience.
Nelly Al-Masri s the frst female sportscaster in Gaza. © Olfat Haddad

GAZA CITY, October 9, 2008 (MENASSAT) – She is a writer, an anchor, a producer, and arguably the most informed sports researcher in the Palestinian Territories. And she is the first of a kind.

35-year-old Nelly Al-Masri has spent the last seven years honing her skills as a sports journalist in the company of an old boys network of exclusively male sportscasters. Al-Masri says she has no regrets. It is her love for sport itself that had allowed her to shatter the glass ceiling.

"I used to play volleyball with the al-Ahli Palestinian lub in Gaza in 1996 while I was still at university. I was a member of the first female group that played sports, knowing that our customs frown upon women playing sports."


Her career as a sports reporter was not always an easy one, and when she entered the field in 2001, her male colleagues in the Gaza Strip were less than encouraging.

But with three sisters who are also very active in sports, and parents who pushed her to excel as a reporter, Al-Masri was able to ignore the criticism from the male sports journalists.

"I disregarded what they said to me, and in a year's time I quickly moved from reporter to news editor at the radio station Sawt al-Hurriyeh (Voice of Freedom) in Gaza."

She continued to move up the ranks, in large part because her peers saw the talent and diligence she put into her reporting. A position as an anchor for a sports show on a local radio station soon followed.

In 2002, Al-Masri attended the Al-Madar Center for Information and Media Studies in Gaza to "improve my skill-set.|

"I love radio but I had to leave the radio and move on to being trained in print and other media forms in Palestine," she told MENASSAT.

But there was also a realization that she had to keep on honing her skills – perhaps more so than her male colleagues.

"I feel I have a great responsibility to the field of sports in Palestine, and I feel on another level that I have to enhance my knowledge of sports generally to keep up with my more respected colleagues," she said.

Of course, the focus of most of the media in the Palestinian Territories has been on politics and humanitarian affairs, and it is the road chosen by most of the students coming out of the journalism schools in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

It has made Al-Masri even more determined to distinguish herself in the sports field.

"I gained this passion after I attended the second media forum for Arab female sports journalists, held in Cairo in 2005. I met Arab journalists there from all around the Arab world. I then got in contact with Al-Sharq newspaper in Qatar, and I began publishing a series of articles about Palestinian sports and female soccer."

Sports and politics

The articles gained her a solid audience and an opportunity to attend the West Asian Games in 2005. The Sports Journalists Association in Palestine then nominated her as the media representative for the female Palestinian football team, which participated in the first Arab Football Tournament for women in Alexandria in April 2006.

Even though there has been resistance by her colleagues, Al-Masri said that she has also had a great deal of valuable advice from male broadcasters along the way.

As for women sports in Palestine, "there has been a more positive atmosphere for women to advance in most sports, both in the schools and outside. We've fielded teams that have participated in Arab and international tournaments, but they need more moral and financial support."

Her biggest project has been a study of female sports in Gaza from the 1950 to date, which she said was the first of its kind ever conducted.

Like all Gazans, Al-Masri too is affected in her work by the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.

"The blockade and the closure of the checkpoints have greatly affected my work. I had to cancel plans to participate in international workshops and conferences to exchange information and represent Palestine."

But the internal strife between the feuding Hamas and Fatah parties has taken its toll on sports too.

"I hope all the branches of the Palestinian Sports Journalists Association will soon be united," she said.