BEIRUT: “Pair up into groups of two and ask your partner why they decided to major in translation,” assigned the instructor at Saint Joseph University (USJ), during the first French literature session of the semester.
“I could benefit from the languages,” answered Rayane Moussallem. “To cover big tournaments like the Olympic games and the World Cup,” she added.
Although her answer at the time was taken lightly and humorously by her classmates, Moussallem was able to merge her translation degree with her passion for sports, to lead an impressive career in sports journalism at a relatively young age.
Moussallem’s love for sports emerged when she was only a child. Influenced by her brother and cousin, who are Manchester United supporters, 8-year-old Moussallem was quick to catch on the love for the game.
“I’ve watched all kinds of championship tournaments,” she explained. “Now my brother doesn’t watch football as much as I do.”
As a young girl with an unlimited imagination, Moussallem had dreams of becoming a professional athlete herself.
“As a child, I dreamt of being an athlete and competing in the Olympics with a gold medal around my neck,” she reminisced. “But then I started working in journalism and now I cover what those athletes do.”
After having completed a Bachelor’s Degree in Translation from USJ, Moussallem wondered how she could benefit from language skills to build a name for herself in sports. Soon after, she earned a Master’s Degree in Information and Communication from USJ, as she entered the sports journalism domain. She started working with Elnashra’s sports section during her first year in the Master’s program.
Upon graduation, Moussallem responded to a job vacancy at LBCI Lebanon as a sports anchor and reporter, an opportunity that led her on to many others.
Moussallem’s appearance on LBCI was her first exposure as a young and skillful female sports journalist. Her coverage of the Lebanese basketball league helped shape a name for her, especially in, but not limited to, the eyes of the vast and loyal Riyadi – Sagesse audience and fan base.
Youssef Berjawi, President of the Lebanese Sports Journalists Association at the time, was not oblivious to Moussallem’s potential. He had been impressed by her performance on LBCI, and consequently, invited her to represent Lebanon at the first Asian Women Sports Journalists Workshop, launched in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and organized by the Asian continental section of the International Sports Press Association or Association Internationale de la Presse Sportive (AIPS).
Moussallem made it a habit to impress at every occasion. Her multilingual and outspoken nature shed light on her work during the forum, which did not go unnoticed by AIPS representatives. Soon after her return from Malaysia, and upon their suggestions, Moussallem was invited to attend the AIPS Young Reporters Programme in Jordan, which kicked off alongside the FIFA U17 Women's World Cup. For three weeks, Moussallem, among other journalists, was subject to morning sessions and afternoon tasks.
“These three weeks shifted my career,” she explained. “They changed my perspective on journalism.”
English journalist Keir Radnedge and Italian Riccardo Romani were among the big names that mentored Moussallem and other participants during the program. Gianni Infantino, President of FIFA, was also present to attend the Women’s World Cup final. The presence of these figures pushed Moussallem to exceed in designated tasks, all of which demanded coverage and reporting of the World Cup.
Once again, Moussallem had barely settled down in Beirut when AIPS contacted her, offering her a position at their main office in Italy. Not one to miss an opportunity, Moussallem moved to Italy, where she worked with the association for one year and two months, during which she achieved new highlights in her career.
Under AIPS, Moussallem travelled frequently, and covered several major international sports events, most significantly the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. She also covered the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games (AIMAG) and the Laureus World Sports Awards, which she considered to be the “Oscars” for sports.
Having accomplished what she said she would during that first French literature course, Moussallem headed home, where yet another opportunity awaited her.
WORLD CUP STUDIO
Back in Lebanon, Moussallem graced the screens of every Lebanese home as she hosted the FIFA World Cup 2018 analysis studio on local channel TeleLiban.
“That month in TL was very important because I felt how many people were watching us, how many homes we entered,” stated Moussallem. “We received the viewer ratings on a daily basis.”
“During the games, TL was number one in Lebanon,” she continued.
Due to the pressure of living up to the viewers’ expectations and the limited time Moussallem had for preparation, running the studio was not easy.
“It was difficult at first,” she admitted. “I was informed two days before the World Cup that I would be hosting the studio.”
“I didn’t prepare beforehand,” added Moussallem. “The responsibility was huge, and making mistakes on air was forbidden.”
Despite the challenges, Moussallem was able to prove herself as a professional football studio host and analyst.
THE GENDER CARD
“If a guy had been running the studio instead of me it wouldn’t have gained such recognition,” explained Moussallem.
A man discussing football in a studio is a regular sight; however, a woman leading the discussion is a surprise, but a good one, believes Moussallem.
In her case, her gender was an advantage to the exposure and encouragement she received, but her potential and knowledge were the key behind the success of the studio.
“Being a girl was a positive twist for me,” she admitted. “Especially that I lived up to the expectations and showed what knowledge I possess.”
Throughout her career in sports journalism, Moussallem only recalls the positive and constructive feedback she has received.
“Once you prove yourself, those who wanted to joke about you being a girl can see that you know what you’re talking about,” she said.
Moussallem attributes the encouragement and admiration that she received to her potential and in-depth knowledge of sports. Her perseverance and determination to achieve her dreams are just as important.
“Following my dream, that’s what kept me going,” revealed Moussallem.
Despite the adversaries she faced, like living alone in a foreign country and insufficient salary wages, Moussallem kept moving forward.
“Sacrifice sacrifice sacrifice,” she said. “You have to sacrifice with your family, friends, money, and salary to follow your dream.”
Although sports journalism, as a field, is not ludicrous, non-rewarding and very challenging, Moussallem’s journey doesn’t end here.
“I didn’t achieve everything I wanted yet, but I’m on the way,” she told Annahar.
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