Getting international footballers’ names right and why it matters



WTO director general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and FIFA president Gianni Infantino. Photo: WTO (CC BY-SA 2.0)


The 2022 FIFA World Cup is about to begin in Qatar – it’s one of the biggest sporting events in the world with participants representing dozens of cultural backgrounds, and with 32 nations qualifying.

But it will be a minefield for Australian presenters and broadcasters, whose struggles pronouncing the names of foreign sportspeople is well known – for example, Lucy Zelic was criticised during SBS’ coverage of the last World Cup, when she pronounced the players’ names correctly.

Some on social media supported her efforts but others described Zelic’s pronunciation of names as “annoying and insufferable”.

They accused her of using fake accents to pronounce the names of European and other players even though – as Zelic and her colleagues pointed out – the broadcaster they worked for – SBS – was about respecting every culture.

But why does it matter if a journalist in Australia doesn’t know how to pronounce the name of Sadio Maane or N’golo Kante correctly?

Our media and diversity

The short answer is that historically, Australia has faced problems in covering diversity with the media not reflecting the diversity of its population, so that when a presenter does bother learning to pronounce a ‘foreign’ sportsperson’s name people take offence.

From the data collected through Screen Australia and the Census, one study explains that nearly half of the population in Australia had either been born overseas or had one or both parents overseas, but this level of diversity is not shown on screen, indicating the difference in how multicultural Australia is in real life and in the media.

There is a long history of highly critical academic enquiry into the way Australian journalists reports issues of cultural diversity, with studies finding racism remains the dominant prism through which reporting of diversity is researched.

Australia’s problematic track record when it comes to media coverage of diversity challenges the perception that we are a fundamentally tolerant society.

One way this manifests itself is in criticism of journalists or presenters when they demonstrate professionalism and respect, by learning to say the name of a player or official correctly.

Some resources

Journalism and media academic professor Philip Bell recommends the introduction of codes of practice for journalists reporting on diversity, and the training of journalism students in cultural competency.

There are resources for journalists to refer to when covering diverse communities and people – for example, this hand book on covering indigenous Australians; and the Australian Muslim Women’s Center for Human Rights media guide to reporting on Islamic communities.

Journalists can avoid assumptions, look at how media organisations in a player’s or official’s country of origin pronounce the player or official’s name, or refer to online guides.

Lijin Kalloor is a Master of Strategic Communication student at La Trobe University