In early 2023, sports reporter Miriam Walker-Khan launched a storytelling platform that she wished had existed when she was younger. As South Asian Heritage Month draws to a close, she discusses the project, her role at Sky Sports, and why mentoring really matters…
Learn about the first South Asian Lioness, or the Nepalese sky runner who was named National Geographic Adventurer of the Year.
Spend time with the captain of the Pakistan women’s national team, focus on an archer tagged the ‘Katniss Everdeen of Bhutan’ or be introduced to the boxer from Manipur who made history at London 2012 before becoming a politician.
These are just a few of the remarkable stories told so far on Brown Girl Sport, a channel created by Miriam Walker-Khan back in January.
After spending around 10 years working in sports media, she still wasn’t seeing anywhere near enough content that reflected women and girls from her communities – so she created a platform for it by herself.
The response to Brown Girl Sport has been “incredible,” says the Sky Sports reporter, and after just six months she already has a planner full of ideas for the future.
During the annual South Asian Heritage Month – which concludes on August 17 – Walker-Khan has been out in Australia at the Women’s World Cup.
While at the tournament, she’s taken the opportunity to highlight the fact that no team representing a nation from South Asia (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka) has ever qualified for a men’s or women’s World Cup – even though 1.9 billion people, which is about a quarter of the entire global population, live in this subregion.
Walker-Khan is producing ‘25%’ as a four-part podcast series alongside social posts on Instagram and Twitter / X.
We caught up with Miriam to find out what has fuelled this passion project, to discuss the pioneering role she has been in at Sky Sports since February, and ask what editors should be thinking about in terms of diversity as they look to the future…
Hi Miriam, congratulations on all you’ve achieved so far with Brown Girl Sport. What’s it been like seeing this project come to life?
Setting up a community that celebrates South Asian women is something I’ve always wanted to do.
So many people have supported Brown Girl Sport, reaching out just to message and say, ‘we wish we had something like this when we were younger’ or asking if they could collaborate or partner.
Because we so rarely hear these stories, we’re led to believe that brown women in sport don’t exist. So, it’s been quite overwhelming how much stuff is on my to-do list and that’s brilliant because it means it’s a long-term thing.
Now when I’m sitting in bed on a Sunday morning, I’m learning about archery in Bhutan or rock climbers from Nepal – it’s all stuff that I’d never ever know about. I’m loving it!
Do you see Brown Girl Sport as being for your younger self, at a time when you’d have most needed it?
100%. I get goosebumps just thinking about that.
When I was younger, the only role model any brown girl had in Britain – or anywhere really – that looked like us, is Jesminder from Bend It Like Beckham, who’s a fictional character [in 2022, Miriam produced and presented a BBC documentary for the film’s 20-year anniversary].
That’s sad – you don’t realise the impact that a lack of role models can have on you in a sporting context until you’re a lot older.
I always remember being sat with my mum in 2005 watching the World Athletics Championships in Helsinki, and it was the first time I’d seen Allyson Felix run. I was obsessed with her – I was a 200m runner, though I was only about 10 or 11 at the time.
My mum was like, ‘oh, she looks a bit like you – your skin colour’s a bit similar and she’s got long brown hair.’ And that was genuinely the closest thing my mum could get to show me that other people looked like me and could run fast. That’s heartbreaking.
You see the impact that so many people have, especially incredible women in sport – whether it’s Serena Williams or the women in track and field. It’s sad to miss out on that which is why I wanted to create Brown Girl Sport.
I don’t know how many young girls follow the accounts – I hope parents are showing their kids what I’m doing – but I just want to show them there’s not just one or two South Asian women in sport, or a fictional character, there are so many women and girls out there and a lot of them have really incredible, brave stories.
They’re smashing through boundaries in whatever sport they’re in, sometimes just to be able to play that sport. I wish the mainstream media did better at telling these stories but yes, I definitely wish I’d seen something like this when I was younger.
How do you get your ideas? Is it word of mouth, Google searches, news alerts, or something else?
I try not to take for granted all the communities that I feel like I’m part of in the world of sport, because there are so many – and it’s not even just communities, it’s friends that I’ve got who are all doing incredible things.
So, it’s mostly word of mouth, following people and knowing what they’re doing. A lot of it is knowing the federations too – I’ve done a lot of work with the Pakistan Football Federation, for example. Their women’s team captain Maria (Khan) is incredible – she’s the niece of squash legend Jahangir Khan, which is a story in itself. He’s one of the greatest athletes ever so that’s a great sporting family to be part of.
Maria has put me in touch with loads of South Asian women in football and the federations. There are lots of people that help but the community still feels quite small, so everyone knows everyone, which is lovely.
Ideas will come to me – we had Maldives Independence Day recently [July 26] which I wouldn’t have known about if I hadn’t set up Brown Girl Sport. I told the story of an amazing athlete called Shamha Ahmed. I just go off fun dates and what’s going on in the world, seeing where brown women are.
Was Brown Girl Sport an idea you had for a long time – something you always wanted to do – or was there a specific spark that made you turn it into reality?
Yeah, I’d wanted to do it for years and I had a gap between my jobs at the BBC and Sky that gave me an opportunity to launch it.
It’s a challenge to find the time for a project like this and keep up to date. I’d love for it to grow further but that will mean getting more support.
I want to work more with some of the groups that exist – organisations like the Muslimah Sports Association, and the Muslim Women in Sport Network – as they’re doing practical and tangible things that I think we could showcase. Get in touch if you think you can help!
Is there any one story that stands out from those you’ve been able to share so far? Are there still many sports where the representation of South Asian women and girls is very new?
I’ve always said that I want to get past ‘firsts’ – I feel like we’re over that as an industry – but equally there are still so many firsts in so many different sports.
The tricky thing is working out how you get past that – ‘this is the first hijabi girl to do this,’ or ‘this is the first Muslim woman to do this.’ It’s not boring and we should always celebrate firsts, but I think it’s about understanding why someone is the first in 2023. What hasn’t changed in all these years that means that they’re the first?
When I started Brown Girl Sport, I did a story from each South Asian country and that was really interesting. But my favourites are anything to do with the Pakistan women’s football team.
The Pakistan Football Federation was banned by FIFA for nearly eight years, so the rebirth of the team is an incredible story.
I got to tell it as a series on Copa 90 called ‘Pakistan Rising’. I was genuinely shocked that they wanted to run it, because it still felt quite niche, so to cover that and link it to Brown Girl Sport was such a positive thing and a sign of change.
I’m grateful to them. There aren’t many platforms that would have taken on a story like that.
I love it all. Recently, women and girls from FC Leytonstone were featured on a local billboard. I posted some photos of them, and the response was amazing.
They were like, ‘oh my god, we’re on an Instagram account!’ They were so excited about it. It’s just really cute and wholesome.
You’ve been in your role as Sky Sports’ first Diversity and Inclusion Reporter for a few months now. There doesn’t appear to be a dedicated equivalent in any other sports media organisation. Why is a role like yours important and do you think there will be more D&I beat reporters in the future?
A lot of people have said to me, why should your role exist because surely everyone should be covering this stuff? And that’s completely true.
But I would also say, as someone who has covered D&I in sport for nearly six years in the industry, that not having the time, space, and support to do those stories is draining.
You can get emotional burnout because we feel so passionately about telling these stories, showcasing amazing things or highlighting key issues in those communities – and yet you’re rarely given the time needed to work on them.
So, I’m grateful that a role exists where I can go and pitch stories and then get given the time to tell them in a way that’s healthy.
It’s a big commitment to create a permanent, full-time role like this and it’s rare for a reason, right? People haven’t seen the benefit of it before, or maybe they haven’t seen the business sense. But there’s so much on my wish list – often we’re having to say, ‘wait, we’ve got too much to do!’
When I started at Sky, that list was about four pages long and nearly all of it got commissioned. I thought that was a good example of the fact that the job should exist. Hopefully in the long term, it will change the industry.
That makes sense – there are so many competing day-to-day pressures in a newsroom, after all.
Yes, and there are so many people at different organisations who want to represent their communities or who are great allies – but it can be really exhausting to do that, which isn’t apparent from the outside.
So having a role like mine means I don’t have to fight that type of battle just to get time and it means the stories are taken more seriously. That sends a great message to not just everyone who works at Sky Sports but to the whole industry. You might think it’s crazy that a job like mine exists, but hopefully that’s meant in a good way!
Having an editor or a senior newsroom figure who understands what you do and what you thrive off is crucial. How is the industry doing to encourage mentoring and create opportunities in that way? I’m guessing you’re at that stage of your career where people coming into the industry are seeking you out for advice…
I was on the BBC JTS (Journalism Trainee Scheme), so that was happening from a year into my career.
It’s important to not just have mentors who are 20 or 30 years older than you but to also have mentors who are two or three years older – people who are just that little bit further ahead, because that’s what’s most important to you now.
I’ll always give too much time probably to mentor other people because I just think it’s so important. Let’s be honest, it is a difficult industry to work in, and often isolating. Anyone who understands and feels that shouldn’t be closing the door behind them – we should be like the Pied Piper, bringing everyone in!
I wouldn’t have done anything without my mentors, and I’ve had loads of different types – some that will teach me about writing for TV like Paddy Gearey, or that I can talk to about being a brown woman like Shireen Ahmed at CBC Sports in Canada, and those who are there for me emotionally.
The most important person in my whole career has been Nelson Kumah at the BBC who’s the Multi-Platform Football Producer. He absolutely understood the stories I wanted to tell, he believed in me, he believed in the fact I wanted to change the industry and make it more diverse, and he was always there – the support that I needed for everything.
Without people like that, I wouldn’t still be in sports media, to be honest. Mentors are the most important part of anyone’s career, especially if you’re from an under-represented background in the industry.
What are your future ambitions for Brown Girl Sport?
I see several journalists following the social accounts so that’s a good thing, right? I want people to understand that it’s not niche to be a South Asian woman in sport, it’s not a taboo subject, it’s real people but we’re not as represented as we should be.
I also want them to know that great stories exist beyond the first person in a particular sport in a particular country.
We must remember that we’re making content for the people who are sat at home or on the bus who are watching our stuff. Let’s not worry about trolls on the internet, let’s think about the real people.
I don’t think we’re properly serving those audiences if we don’t think about who they are and what they’re doing – and that means you should have regular people like them telling those stories, who understand the communities.
People are obsessed with trying to attract younger audiences but then they either don’t listen to the young people in their organisations about how to do that, or they just find one young person and put pressure on that individual.
We don’t know what the industry will look like in five years’ time. Will we be watching less TV? Will it be more about vertical video? Everyone should learn to adapt a bit more.
And it doesn’t matter what platform we’re using – we’re still storytellers.
Our thanks to Miriam for the Q&A – follow her on Twitter / X at @mimwalkerkhan, on Instagram at @mimzara, and on TikTok at @miriamzarawk. To find Brown Girl Sport on both Twitter / X and Instagram, head to @browngirlsport_ – and check out the ‘25%’ podcast series on Spotify.
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