Tshabalala proudly owns the title, having paved the way for a crop of up-and-coming female sportscasters with Minnie Dlamini and Mpho Maboi thrown into the ring.
“I’ve proven myself over the years and I’m now the First Lady of Sport. I’m right there at the top with my male counterparts. What’s really great, even though I say I’m the First lady of Sport, is I don’t think you have to look at me in a sub-category of females – I’m definitely a leading female anchor – but I’m toe-to-toe with my male counterparts,” Tshabalala quips.
“I definitely have paved the way a lot of female sportscasters. Having been in the industry for so long, scaled the heights and done global events; above all I have had the staying power. With sports it’s not about the glamour, it’s about what you know. It’s about being taken seriously in the industry. You are not going to last because of your looks, you are going to last because of your knowledge.”
Back when Tshabalala started in the industry as an 18-year-old ingénue fresh out of Krugersdorp High School in 2000, she never in her wildest dreams imagined being a sports connoisseur. When she started out there were no female role models, which she says meant less pressure on her since she couldn’t be compared to anyone.
“Just trying to prove yourself, having to do an interview with a coach that has been doing it for so many years, and the first thing when they see you is ‘who is she and what does she know?’ So I stood out and it was really difficult to be taken seriously in the beginning. But to prove myself, I prepared a 100 times more than my male counterparts. It pushed me to be the best.”
SABC Sport vs SuperSport
For many years, the 34-year-old sports anchor’s name was synonymous with SABC Sport. She shocked many when she announced her departure from the broadcaster after a period of 10 years.
Trouble started to brew when Tshabalala was asked to host a magazine show with comedian Trevor Noah during the 2010 FIFA World Cup coverage. She was unhappy with the decision as she had hoped to be given a more hands on role, especially since influential FIFA names were watching.
Tshabalala reached the last straw when she came back home after hosting the FIFA Ballon D’Or in 2011. She needed something bigger and global, while SABC Sport at the time had cut their sports coverage. However, SuperSport offered her what she had yearned for: travelling the world doing what she loves, international interviews and global stardom.
“I was approached by SuperSport for the longest time, at least three years before I made the move. But at the time things were moving and shaking at the SABC, I had my own show, was at the top of things and we had the World Cup. During the World Cup, I was expecting to be given a studio role like anchoring live games and that didn’t happen. I was given a magazine show with Trevor Noah, a comedian. At the time I thought for me it was belittling because I was a bonafide sports anchor. I was not very happy with that,” Tshabalala explains.
“I’m very happy at SuperSport. I have had plenty of offers from CNN in America and ESPN. There has always been a reason why I turned them down, because they were not giving me something bigger and better than what I’m getting at SuperSport.”
In August Tshabalala will announce a new international TV job, that will mean her getting more involved in the English Premier League. She will also be travelling to Rio to cover the upcoming 2016 Summer Olympics.
Tshabalala is a proud mother of three boys and she’s juggling that with her busy schedule that often sees her on international work travels. The oldest is 14-years-old and youngest 9-years-old. In the middle there is a 13-year-old boy, who she regards as her own, after her sister passed away and left him with her.
“As a woman it come naturally, we all multi-task really well. I have three boys and they are all crazy about their sports. I travel with them a lot. Sometimes on the weekends they will come to the games with me and they get to meet their icons,” Tshabalala points out.
“They get to mingle with my high-profile friends. They call them uncles. So they have Uncle Didier Drogba, Uncle Samuel Eto’o and Uncle Luol Deng. My kids are part of this world. I literally live, eat and breathe sports. My kids do the same.”
Speaking of Tshabalala’s high-profile pals, most of them are African athletes and she got to know them better on her international work trips. For instance, she officially met Drogba about three years ago in Toronto, Canada, during an interview. They had lunch as well as dinner and their friendship took off.
Tshabalala reveals that she is currently single, but is open to romance. She agrees that she can be intimidating at times, so she needs someone who can handle all of that.
“I’m single and I’m happy. I have time for romance. I’ve realised that the right kind of guy for me will be an athlete. I’m not sure if it’s a basketball player or a footballer. I understand that world and I’m part of that world. I need someone who is global-minded like me. Someone who is settled and financially stable, because you will find that a lot of people will find me intimidating. I have my story together,” Tshabalala affirms.
“People think I’m older than I am. Maybe it’s because I’ve been in this industry for so long. I have kids, I was married for 6 years and I got divorced. I’ve lived such a long life, people think I’m 40. Two years ago when I was dating a younger individual, people were like I’m 10 years older than he was and I was only 4-5 years older than him.”