Women Who Travel

Women Who Travel Podcast: On the Road for the FIFA World Cup

Host Lale Arikoglu sits down with sportscaster Tracey Holmes and goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart to get a better understanding about life on the road for athletes, and the people who cover them. 
FIFA World Cup Women Who Travel Podcast

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As the FIFA World Cup in Australia and New Zealand draws to a close, we share conversations with two women who've had very different experiences with the tournament over the years: Australian Broadcasting Company's sportscaster and host of The Ticket, Tracey Holmes, who spent her career covering numerous Olympics and World cups, and Nicole Barnhart, goalkeeper of The Washington Spirit and, unsurprisingly, a super traveler for the sport.

Lale Arikoglu: I'm Lale Arikoglu, and welcome to another episode of Women Who Travel

Speaker 2: Cohost Australia have started this home World Cup with a victory- 

LA: We're a few days shy from the end of the FIFA World Cup, taking place at stadiums all over Australia and New Zealand.

Tracey Holmes: The actual colors of this World Cup has been so beautifully done. It's been orchestrated by, uh, designers in both Australia and New Zealand, incorporating the colors of the land and the ocean, the forest, the deserts. So, it's a beautiful color palette, and there's beautiful merchandise using these colors, and beautiful posters and flags close to the venues. 

LA: Whoever you supported, however you watched the matches, or if you found it frustratingly hard to access the matches, you're probably aware there were major shocks, wildly unexpected wins, and everything in between.

23 nations played in the 2023 FIFA tournament. That's a lot of traveling. We'll be talking to an Australian sports and politics reporter about how the tournament impacted her country.

TH: I'm not parochial. I'm not a fan. I don't support one team over any other. I love talking to the people that have come from everywhere and just getting their responses and how they're soaking up the atmosphere, the stories.

LA: And later, we'll hear from an American goalkeeper.

Nicole Barnhart: Unfortunately, you are going to go into some games where you're not feeling your best.

LA: About what it's like to play in intense international competitions after you've flown huge distances and multiple timezones.

TH: I don't so much care who wins the World Cup, and in particular, matches, who's gonna emerge victorious or not.

LA: That's Tracey Holmes, who's based in Sydney. She's been an anchor for Australian TV and radio traveling the globe, covering 14 Olympic Games and other major international events. So it's new to her to be telling stories about her own home. My conversation with Tracey was soon after kickoff.

TH: I was in Brisbane the other day and I went to a match between England, who are one of the pre-tournament favorites, and Haiti, one of the newcomers. And that was just a contrast itself between the haves and the have-nots. And I was interested to see... I knew there'd be a lot of English supporters, because we have so many Brits that live here in Australia. But I was astounded to see how many people had come to support Haiti. So there are a whole lot of Americans. Um, there are a whole lot of people from, you know, Central America. And there are a whole lot of Australians as well who were just cheering for the underdog. And Haiti really took it to England and so the- the enthusiasm throughout the match was phenomenal. 

LA: I am interested to know, as a reporter, whether you are saying World Cup or Women's World Cup.

TH: I'm saying World Cup.

LA: Okay. Tell me, tell me your line of thinking.

TH: In my way of thinking, it's the World Cup, and there's a men's and a women's. Everyone knows it's the women's being contested now. We've been having this discussion around a lot of different leagues that we have in Australia anyway, other football. So Australian rules football, rugby league, rugby union. And they've all recently, in the past few years, started women's competitions that they didn't have before. And so for instance, if I can give you an example, our rugby league is called the NRL. So they've had the NRL and now they've got NRLW. So we had this argument, okay, well, if we're going to identify women, then we need to identify men. So either we call it NRLM and NRLW, or we call it NRL. And with it, the pictures do the talking or the voices of the women. We can hear that it's obviously women.

LA: From what I understand, I think this is like, the first tournament or one of the first tournaments to be hosted by two countries?

TH: Yeah.

LA: What's that feeling like and what's it like to be traveling back and forth between Australia and New Zealand to- to cover this? I mean, what a unique experience.

TH: It's the first Women's World Cup that is co-hosted. There was a Men's Cup co-hosted back in the '80s, and that was co-hosted between Japan and South Korea. And I remember speaking to one of the organizers back then who said [laughs], “Never again.”

LA: [laughs].

TH: It's an absolute nightmare, because you've got international travel. You have to keep going back and forth through immigration. You know, you need your visas in check. And so there's all of that. So what's tended to happen is that everybody and media companies as well have a New Zealand team and an Australian team. And most of the people are based in Australia. For those that are based in New Zealand, it's not such a big deal, because the- the distances between the cities are not so vast. In Australia, it's vast. So you've got some [laughs] teams... I was looking at the schedule the other day, and you know, you think this one poor team... First of all, they play in Brisbane. They fly five and a half hours across the other side of the country to Perth and they fly back three and a half hours to somewhere else. It's like-

LA: It's so wild.

TH: They- they- they were jet lagged just coming to Australia. Then they're gonna be jet lagged going to the other side of the country [laughs].

LA: I feel terrible when I get off a plane and I don't have to do anything after. How on earth do you actually make yourself feel kind of on the top of your game after all this air travel? And I mean, it just sounds grueling.

TH: It's grueling. It's grueling. In A- in Australia, we're kind of used to it.

LA: You've covered sport in many different countries and traveled a lot for it. Do the crowds at a Women's World Cup and a Men's World Cup feel different? And if so, why do you think that is?

LA: I mean, if I compare it to the most recent FIFA World Cup, which was the Men's World Cup in November, December last year in Qatar, the general feel, it was run so well. It was the first time ever that no British person was arrested at a FIFA World Cup.

LA: And you're talking to a British person here, so I- I'm sh- I'm floored by that fact [laughs]

TH: [laughs] That's right. Yeah, it was just amazing for you.

LA: We don't, we don't do well on the world stage, I have to say.

TH: No. But, and- and here's the thing though. There was no alcohol. And so normally, when people get arrested at a World Cup, it's because they're particularly drunk and become very aggressive. In Qatar, one of the first people I spoke to, it was, uh, the night before the World Cup was going to start. And I was down on the Corniche, which is like the bay area where you can walk around, and they had these beautiful, uh... There's a lot of parklands near the coast, and, uh, they'd erected all of these huge, big, silver flagpoles with the flags of every nation. And it was really spectacularly lit at night.

And at night, because of the heat of the day there, at night, all the families tend to come out and hover around the beach area or wherever there's a park. It- it's a very friendly atmosphere. There was a woman who was watching me do a live cross, and I was packing up my camera gear afterwards. And she came across and she gave me really beautifully wrapped little sweet, like a local dessert. And I said, "Oh, thank you." And she said, "Oh, you know, welcome to my country." And I said, "Oh, can I do an interview with you?" And she said, "Yes." And, uh, she was completely covered.

Most people, most of the women in Qatar, you can see all of their faces, even though their hair is covered. And I said, "How do you feel about the world coming here?" And she said, "Oh, well, I'm very relieved, because my country just announced that..." You know, originally there was gonna be alcohol in the venues, and the government has just announced that they're canning that 48 hours before the event started, which caused a lot of controversy in Western nations. And she said, “I'm so relieved, because I've never seen drunk people. And I would be scared to come down here with my two daughters and so now I don't have to fear coming out in my own country and being part of the celebration.”

And I thought, "That's incredible." And so what you saw in Qatar and for Men's World Cup, this was completely unique, a lot of families in the stands, a lot of children. And that's the same sort of thing you get at a Women's World Cup.\

TH: Women's sporting culture at the elite level hasn't developed along that same arc that men's has developed over the last 100 years. And so, predominantly, you know, women have had to bring their children to the game or if they're in a team, they have to put them on the sidelines so, you know, they play with each other while- while the women are training. So that already has a very different feel. When men have gone to training, it's just a whole lot of men. But that's starting to change, too, you know? Because I think they- they cross over at some point. And so it becomes the norm that the whole family now is part of the sporting conversation or the sporting landscape and the involvement in sporting activity. And so that's changed.

And also the next generation in 20 years' time, when the children and the youth of today are in charge of media coverage or CEOs of companies or who knows how the world is going to look in that time? Because things change so quickly. But also, the integration of other parts of the world. You think about professional sport, and it's just been dominated, and elite sport dominated by rich, wealthy, mostly white countries. And that we're starting to see a shift as well. Even some of the teams here that are performing, they came here with no reputation. No one knew anything about them. They were debutantes.

Haiti, for instance, comes here on the back of huge economic challenges, social challenges, political challenges. And here they are, holding the European champions, England, to account in a way that nobody expected. And that's great.

LA: After the break, Tracey reflects on flying last minute up to Darwin in Australia's Northern Territory to cover an unexpected appearance by FIFA secretary general, Fatma Samoura, who was meeting with young soccer players.

TH: The secretary general of FIFA, Fatma Samoura, really broke the mold of FIFA administration. She came in in 2016 off the back of raids that were run in- in Switzerland, but called for by the Department of Justice in the US. A number of executives have been jailed, $300 million has been returned to FIFA, which had been taken out of the system. So this woman is quite amazing, because every president and secretary general of FIFA, the world governing body of football, has been a white, European male. And so after all of this trouble and this- this horrible reputation that had developed around FIFA, the president brought in Fatma Samoura, who's a Senegalese woman, Black, Muslim female. You could not get anything more diametrically opposed to what had been the norm for 112 years.

Anyway, she's been very active in really creating different conversations, uh, things like making sure that First Nations voices have been heard in this World Cup, which are very important to the Maori people in New Zealand and the aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people in Australia, whose voices are marginalized. Uh, so there was all that sort of work being done behind the scenes. And she decided she was gonna fly up to Darwin, which is at the top of Australia, uh, you know, it's not a state. It's a territory called the Northern Territory. And it's probably the city, the only city in Australia where you would walk down the street and a majority of the people you walk past are First Nations people.

So it already has a very different feel to many other Australian cities. She went up there to meet with a number of First Nations communities, and I was lucky enough to find out she was going, because it wasn't a media trip. And so I flew up. But it's like, five hours on the plane, and I had to fly up sort of midnight to get there in the morning. I worked all day and then I caught the midnight flight back. So [laughs] it was like, this 30-hour period, and it's like, that was just to go, you know, to a city up- up the hill [laughs].

LA: What a whirlwind though. What was, what was that trip like when you were on the ground?

TH: Fascinating, actually, because, uh, she turned up in a skills clinic for a whole lot of children. They weren't only First Nations children. They were just a collection of kids who were real football enthusiasts, um, but a lot of them were First Nations. And when she arrived, uh, she was introduced and the kids were all sitting on the ground. And she got down and sat on the ground, too, on the grass. It was wet grass and she had her legs folded. It was very humid. And she spoke to them at their level, and that already impressed me, because it's not the normal way for presidents of world governing bodies or secretaries general of world governing bodies to behave.
But then, the way she spoke to them and what she spoke about, I've never heard a conversation from somebody in her position like that. And so she said to them, "Look, you know, I understand that the world is not fair, that people don't all get the same opportunities. And even you as the next generation coming through will have more opportunities than I did. I couldn't play football in my country. It was very conservative and just not a thing a girl could do. Girls now can." And she's very keen on pushing the women aspect. But she said, "I can relate to your story, because we were colonized, you know, 200-and-something years ago," and she said, “People came to my country and colonized my country, and three million of my ancestors were sold as slaves to the USA.” And just to hear someone speak like that, uh, was totally unique. And I was so glad I was there to hear it, because as I say, you don't normally get that from... Sports, uh, officials run a million miles from anything that's controversial. And she just went in.

LA: I was gonna say, I, it sounds very surprising. And also, I think an example of how sport and, you know, I think the World Cup, but you could apply it to other tournaments, too, really starts so many conversations and brings people together in a lot of different ways. You know, I think you just think about people attending for the match. But there's so much more that kind of comes out of it. What do you think sports' responsibility is in moments like this? And do you think we expect too much or too little from it?

TH: The other day, I was at a game between Jamaica and France. And it was phenomenal. Jamaica just held France and was very level. But one of the people I spoke to afterwards coming out of the venue was a young footballer from Afghanistan, who had to flee her country when the Taliban came into Kabul and took over. She's playing at a local soccer team here, and she put out an appeal to FIFA to say, "Don't forget about us, because the entire Afghanistan women's team is here in Australia." I think if you can have genuine change that comes from events like this, that's a really great thing. Not just for football, not just for women's football, but for the world.

LA: Happiness. Great. This has been really fascinating. You can hear Tracey Holmes on her podcast, The Ticket, from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Every week she plunges headlong into analyzing a wide range of sport and the politics around sport. Coming up, Nicole Barnhart of the Washington Spirit. Nicole Barnhart's career has taken her to incredible places far from home. And it's turned her into a travel pro who knows how to take unexpected events in her stride. She chatted with me earlier in the tournament before the US would get knocked out by Sweden. Nicole's currently the goalkeeper for the DC team, Washington Spirit, and has represented her country in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics and in two World Cups.

NB: I think I have the best job in the world. I get to work out, get paid to play soccer, and- and travel the world and see really cool areas and places that I probably never would've seen. You know, you get to travel. You get to experience the places, you made your friends, and they're essentially like your family because you spend so much time with them. I was part of a group with the national team. We called ourselves kind of like the nerds, 'cause we're the ones that, when we had the opportunity to go out and explore, which you know, were far and few between, we always tried to make the most of it and- and go out and check out cool things and, you know, experience-

LA: Wait.

NB: [laughs].

LA: Tell me a little bit more about what made you nerds on those things. What were you going to check out?

NB: Um, I think it was just the fact that it was a small group of us and we were like, "Oh, we have time. Let's go do something fun and cool and learn about the local, you know, history or culture, experience something cool that..." And everybody else was like, "Oh, I'm gonna sit at home on our day off."

LA: As someone who was obsessed with Bend It Like Beckham as a teenager, when they get to go play in Germany and have that night out is like, cemented in, on my brain.

NB: [laughs].

LA: What was it, what was it actually like when you were all together in Germany and when you were in China? Like, you- you know, you were going out and trying to experience those places when you could. But I'm assuming it- it was probably more than just like, one slightly disastrous night in a nightclub.

NB: [laughs] Yeah. Um, honestly, China was so long ago, it- it's hard for me to remember that too much. And I think for me, that was my first, you know, big team that I made. So just to be on the World Cup team was like, my eyes were probably about this big with everything that happened.\

Um, I don't remember us honestly getting out and doing too much there, and, because part of it with the World Cup is y- you have a lot of games and you're traveling a lot between games. I think the one thing I do remember that we did get to do was, we got to go to like a panda sanctuary and just kind of see what they do there and how they save pandas. And we got to interact with a panda. Um, but again, that was all before the tournament started. And then once games start, it's just down to business. And you're just so busy, you're tired, you're traveling.

LA: I have to ask, you know, when I've done like a really long distance flight, I feel like absolute dog shit [laughs] when I get off the plane. And you know, I, the last thing I can kind of fathom is trying to do a run. And you know, your b- y- your body just feels so sort of drained. How do you make sure you arrive feeling in good shape and feeling energized? That must be really hard.

NB: It is. It's tough. Um, I mean, there's only so much you can do. I think you kind of control what you can control and know that you're probably not gonna feel your best when you get over there, 'cause you have long travel. You're s- you're spending a lot of time sitting. You're dealing with timezone changes. So it- it's probably one of the toughest things, at least for me. I don't sleep a lot as it is, so like, I only sleep during certain windows, and if you miss it, you... Man, I- I feel awful. They're always on us about, "You- you may be tired, but don't sleep, because you've gotta get yourself adjusted to the timezone." You know, so a lot of times we would just go out and, if we were in a place where we could walk around, we'd go out and just walk around to move and- and be active and- and stay awake and try to get adjusted.

LA: You mentioned sleep [laughs]. What's it like playing a match if, say, you still haven't shaken that jet lag or the hotel bed just like, isn't giving you a good night's sleep? How does it feel to play a high profile match really tired?

NB: You're always gonna go out and- and give your best effort, and it may not be what you want it to be. But again, you'll always try to do as much as you can to get yourself feeling your best, uh, come game day, and you know that there's times where that's not always gonna be successful. So a lot of it's the mental side of it, of- of I know I don't feel my best, but I'm still gonna go out and push and- and give my best and still perform. I mean, I've had some days where my best performances are days where I go out thinking I'm tired, and I think it's, you know, it's just like a mental reset and your body's just kind of in overdrive and trying to survive. And somehow it turns out to be one of your best performances.

LA: We're focusing a lot on the World Cup, and rightfully so. It's timely. But you know, you said you've basically been, you've been traveling your entire career, a career that would've started when you were really young. And so you've had so many travel experiences. Do you have a, I guess a- a favorite or a most memorable travel experience, a place that football has taken you to or soccer has taken you to?

NB: I would say I've loved the Nordic countries. Um, I just love the environment, the culture, the people. Um, I really liked... We did a- a pre-World Cup camp in Austria for the Germany World Cup, and I just thought it was so pretty there. I love the outdoors. I love nature. So just seeing all that and experience that was- was really cool and pretty. Spent a little time in- in Tokyo and Japan. I love that culture. I love the food.

LA: I feel like you've been listing off a bunch of places that I love.  Because I loved Japan when I went and I loved Tokyo. Talk a little bit more about that. 'Cause it just, it is just feels like another world when you're there.

NB: We were there. We were mostly in Tokyo. It wasn't a very long trip. But we did do a little bit of travel as well. It was after the tsunami, actually, so we did actually travel out to where the tsunami hit shore. So to see that and see all of the kind of just like desolate area and abandoned ships and cars and boats. So that was a really memorable experience to be able to just see and experience that area and- and really like, comprehend and understand what people went through during that disaster.

LA: What a wild experience. How come you went down there? Was it sort of to volunteer or was it just part... You happened to be passing through that region?

NB: It wasn't too far from where we were staying. And just having, you know, played Japan at international events and, you know, trying to support them through all of what they were going through, they just thought it would be a good opportunity for us to go out and kind of see and learn and, um, yeah. It was very, very eye-opening. But I mean, as far as Tokyo itself, it was really, really just an interesting city. I think one of the things I remember is there's just so many earthquakes in Tokyo, that it's just like, common and natural, you know? They're small or- or big. So I think the thing that kind of amazed me is that so many of the buildings there are equipped for- for earthquakes and they almost, a lot of them sense them before they happen. So I think there's, I think it was in our hotel, one time we were waiting for the elevator, like, "Why is the elevator not coming? Why..." And then all of a sudden, it's like you feel the earthquake and you're, oh, like, it senses them and they stop so you can't get in them. So it's just like little things like that, but then-

LA: Oh my god, that is terrifying [laughs].

NB: [laughs] You just kind of get used to it at that point. You're like, sometimes the, you can't even tell if you're shaking or not. So I- I remember athletic trainers, like, hung a string with a piece of tape in the athletic training room, so you could see if it was moving and if it was actually an earthquake. Um, but I think just like the food side of it was really cool as well. Uh, like the train stations there are really popular, and there's some really, really good kind of hidden food places there. I- I remember we went and got shabu-shabu. Which, uh, was so good. We, I think we would've eaten it every day if we could've. So I- I am like, a little bit of a food junkie, so I love going out and experiencing food in other places and different cultures.

LA: Been focusing a lot on international travel, but obviously, you- you play all over the US as well. Where are some of your favorite places in America to play? Where has the best crowds and the best atmosphere?

NB: We just played in San Diego, you know, about two weeks ago, and their- their crowd, their stadium that they have there is- is tremendous. Los Angeles, they pack the house every single one of their games, and it's just getting people out there consistently and it's really cool to see that support and just to see that excitement about women's soccer that it's deserved all these years, and it's finally there. It still has room to grow, but like where it is now is such a better place than it has been.

LA: Thank you so much. I know that you are so busy, um, so I really appreciate that you managed to find some time to chat with me. We'll be back next week with another mini episode. This time, we'll listen to Margaret, who was compelled to recreate a trip to Europe her mother took in the 1950s after finding a set of Kodak slides her mother had kept to herself. I'm Lale Arikoglu, and you can find me on Instagram @lalehannah. Our engineers are Jake Lummus and Gabe Quiroga. The show's mixed by Amar Lal. Jude Kampfner from Corporation for Independent Media is our producer. See you next week.