‘New?” Anne-Marie Fokkens sounds surprised when she hears Amber Brantsen say that she initially “hadn’t considered at all” the fact that it could be special that as a woman she will present Formula 1 on the new streaming service Viaplay. Fokkens was right on her social media wrote that she liked being the first darts presenter “the best thing” about her new job. “I think it’s a step for the sport that a woman can be at the helm,” she says.
If she had already come up with the idea, Brantsen would not have been able to make such a statement, because Froukje de Both presented motorsport on RTL7 fifteen years ago. “But of course I realize that F1 is a man’s world. And then I like that I can indirectly contribute to changing that.”
Sitting on a chesterfield high at the top of an Amsterdam business tower where Viaplay receives journalists, the presenters search out loud for the right balance in what feels like an elephant in the room. Yes, they think it is important for women to enter sports journalism. On the other hand, if you want to normalize something, do you always have to emphasize it? When is the time right to just let it be? “We are in an intermediate phase”, finally concludes Fokkens, “in which we have to mention for a moment that it is special”. Brantsen agrees.
Because no matter how much discussed this topic is – it has not yet been normalized. Like this wrote more than 150 female sports journalists in France submitted an open letter last year Le Monde about the sexism they experience: from harassment on social media to sexual abuse by colleagues. Fokkens: “At the first Viaplay meeting, we immediately discussed #MeToo and which avenues we can deal with if we don’t like something. And in addition it was said: we got your back when you get shit online. That is probably even harder for Amber.” After all, many more people watch Formula 1 than darts.
They therefore try to pay little or no attention to what is being said about Viaplay on social media. Brantsen: „Eva Jinek said: you have to build a circle of people you trust. If they are very positive you have to believe them, if they are critical too, and then you have to let it slide a bit.”
And luckily there is also the beautiful side, such as the messages Brantsen receives from young girls about how they see her as an example. “That’s not necessarily my goal, but I think it’s really cool.” Fokkens is noticeably less interested in the idea of being a role model. And so there are some differences between the two. While Fokkens had no objection to the ‘More for men’ slogan of that channel during the time she worked at RTL7, Brantsen sees it differently. “Why should there be so much emphasis on those differences? I’m kinda done with that.” Fokkens: “It’s just target group determination.”
They are unanimous about the false contradiction between career and motherhood. “You always hear that you can’t ask women how they combine it with the children, but I like to be at home a lot myself. I want to organize my daughter’s children’s party and go to school camp, because that’s what I want as a mother. That has nothing to do with not wanting to make a career.” Brantsen nods. “There is often no space in between.”
More objective and journalistic
Once the elephant has walked out of the room, there is room to talk about other issues, such as Viaplay’s desire to approach live sports in a more “journalistic” way. Brantsen has that journalistic background at the NOS, Fokkens at Omroep Brabant and the General Newspaper† It all had to be, Brantsen told the website earlier Sports news“more critical than we have been used to in recent years.”
What we are used to is the relaxed, sometimes jovial atmosphere of RTL7 Darts and Ziggo Sport, where people jumped on the bench madly when Max Verstappen won an important race. That will not be the case at Viaplay – if only because the presenters and analysts do their work standing there. Not that cheering is forbidden. Brantsen: “We are of course proud of Verstappen as a Dutchman and world champion.”
Just like Ziggo in the past, Viaplay has a paid partnership with Verstappen. The first fruit of the collaboration was a 25-minute ‘documentary’ about Verstappen’s world title last season. Verstappen is not asked about the fact that that title was accompanied by controversy and furious protests from rival Lewis Hamilton’s team. Can you actually critically question someone if you work with them commercially? Brantsen swears that it will just happen. “He knows that himself.”
Verstappen’s counterpart in darts Michael van Gerwen will also simply be told if he makes a mess of it, says Fokkens. She is still mulling over the question of the extent to which she can denounce the sometimes harmful use of alcohol in sports. “If we discuss that, the darts world will be angry. I don’t want to censor myself, but that’s the one subject I have to resign myself to not touching too much on. But I hope to do something with it one day.”
Sport and journalism are an at times uncomfortable marriage – ‘give and take’, Fokkens summarizes – that sometimes rests on the tacit understanding that in the end everyone is on the same side. Especially if both parties come from the same country. For example, Ziggo once postponed the broadcast of an interview by Verstappen at the request of his team Red Bull Racing, because statements could have been detrimental to the Dutch driver. Would Viaplay do the same in such a situation? Brantsen: “I can’t really imagine it. But I cannot give a general answer.”
In practice, Viaplay’s more journalistic approach will mainly mean that multiple perspectives are discussed, says Brantsen. So also, for example, the perspective of British Hamilton fans, who often have little sympathy for the ‘reckless’ Verstappen. “But also the stories about the rear, the teams that are having a hard time. And of course about the money involved in F1. You do the sport short by only looking at Verstappen.”
More ‘layers’ in the sport will also be explored in darts, says Fokkens. “We don’t just want talking heads who muse endlessly about why an arrow went left past the other arrow instead of right, but also an analyst who goes into depth with statistics about a player’s career progress between matches. Or a video analysis of the trajectory of an arrow.” In F1, augmented reality is even used to virtually put the cars in the studio and take them apart. Brantsen: “Because the sport can be very technical, we want to explain it visually, so that everyone can follow it.”
Sport and therefore sports journalism are increasingly taking on a political-social dynamic. For example, grid girls and walk-on girls have disappeared from F1 and darts in recent years for social reasons: young women who served as ‘decoration’ for tournaments and races. Both sports also make plenty of statements against racism and for LGBT+ rights.
In the NOS Formula 1 Podcast Last year, in-house F1 reporter Louis Dekker was annoyed by what, in his eyes, was the forced “political correctness” of the motorsport association FIA and their “fiddling” with Black Lives Matter shirts. “And then very apolitical racing in Bahrain.” The discussion arose from a conversation about driver Nikita Mazepin, who grabbed a woman’s breasts on an Instagram video last year. Brantsen, who still presented the podcast at the time, kept aloof. With Viaplay it will be different. “As a NOS presenter, I did not give my opinion so quickly, but of course I do. Especially when it comes to cross-border behavior of a driver.”
The Russian Mazepin has since left: his father financed his team with rubles that people thought smelled too much since the invasion of Ukraine. Because of the war, the FIA further canceled the Grand Prix in Moscow. It raises the question of whether you should continue to race in authoritarian countries such as Bahrain (this weekend) and Saudi Arabia, where 81 people were recently beheaded in one day. According to Brantsen, these discussions also have a place at Viaplay – but only if they live in the sport itself, not on their own initiative.
Darts has its own social growing pains. The most talked about player of recent years was 27-year-old British Fallon Sherrock, who broke through when she became the first woman to win a match at the 2020 World Cup. She also won the second, beating the then number 11 in the world. The images of Sherrock went viral and even The New York Times from the darts-blind United States wrote about it.
But when Sherrock received plenty of wildcards from the darts association PDC after her success to participate in prestigious TV tournaments, the resistance grew: the association would favor her as a woman. During a tournament in Amsterdam, the audience sang “There has to be a penis in it” when she came out. “I would immediately point out in the studio that that is not possible,” says Fokkens. Apart from that, she shows some understanding for the resistance. “We must not forget where we come from. A generation ago it was still the standard for the man to work and the woman not. Darts was a pure men’s sport. Women weren’t even allowed to participate. A lot happens in a very short time.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism