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CBC contributor Shireen Ahmed delivers lecture on oppression in sports

Written by on March 3, 2023

Photo provided by Illinois State University

NORMAL, Ill. – There are only four public hijab-wearing sports journalists in the U.S. and Canada. Illinois State University had the opportunity to host one of them as a guest speaker.

Shireen Ahmed, a CBC sports senior contributor, delivered a lecture at 6 p.m. on Tuesday at the Multicultural Center.

Ahmed’s lecture, “Challenging and Changing the Game: Sports Journalism and Storytelling from an Anti-Oppression Lens,” focused on recognizing racism and misogyny in sports and challenging traditional journalism values.

Ahmed said that she was always interested in sports while growing up. She even moved her wedding date so that she could watch the FIFA World Cup.

However, it did not take long for her to realize the mix of racism and misogyny out on the playing field and on the sidelines.

“The abuse that I get is not merely sexist,” Ahmed said. “It’s marinated in xenophobia and horrific gender Islamophobia as well.”

Throughout her career, Ahmed recognized that she was forced to face different kinds of problems that her male coworkers did not, hers always stemming from prejudice and inherent bias.

“I write out my ideas editorially every week and I think, ‘How much respect am I going to get from this? How many hate emails am I going to get from this?’” Ahmed said. “How many, ‘Go back to where you came from’ [statements] am I going to get from this?”

Using her unique lens and experiences, Ahmed also spoke about how traditional journalistic ideas are often used against minority groups in the field. She explained how objectivity attempts to silence the voices of those select groups.

“The idea of objectivity is ridiculous, because it was created by gatekeepers of journalism trying to tell people in the margins that their lived experience affects their work,” Ahmed said. “Show me one journalist whose life doesn’t affect their work.”

Not only is Ahmed a CBC senior sports contributor, but her expertise in Muslim women in sports has led her to become a published researcher, a professor at Toronto Metropolitan University and the co-creator of the feminist sports podcast “Burn It All Down.”

In 2020, Ahmed became the first hijab-wearing woman to appear on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” in Canada. In 2021, she was featured on NBC’s “On Her Turf” for the Tokyo Olympics.

“I didn’t realize what a big deal it was for me to actually do this until one of the techs in the control room emailed…that seeing me on screen brought tears to his eyes,” Ahmed said. “In his 18 years of working there, he has never seen an expert that looks like me.”

And still, Ahmed continues to fight for breaking down systems of oppression rather than choosing to excel within them.

“I’m constantly learning and unlearning,” Amed said. “I feel like that’s an incredible tool for journalists and that’s what I teach my students.”