AFTER almost 30 years in broadcasting, and being the face, and voice, of some of the world’s biggest sporting events, you’d think there’s nothing new under the sun for Hazel Irvine.

But the former pupil of Cardross Primary School and Hermitage Academy is clearly excited by the local and national focus on women’s sport – with Scotland at the women’s football World Cup in France for the first time and Luss boxer Hannah Rankin, at the time of our chat, preparing for her IBO world title fight in Paisley.

Speaking to the Advertiser on a return to home ground, just before giving a speech at the annual afternoon tea organised by the local branch of Save The Children at Helensburgh Sailing Club, Hazel admits that the career opportunities for women, in sport and in broadcasting as well as in sports broadcasting, are now “night and day” compared to when she started out in front of a camera at STV way back in 1988.

“The most formative TV moment of my life was the 1972 Munich Olympics,” she reveals.

“Suddenly my brain switched into gold, silver and bronze, and I was absolutely obsessed.

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“I remember going to the Brownies one night in the Geilston Hall and explaining to people that I really wanted to be an athlete. I was told, ‘You can’t be an athlete, there’s no money in it, it’s not a career...’

“Look at it now. Who’d have thought we’d have been so excited about the women’s World Cup when we were fighting for exposure and airtime for women’s sport for so long?

“I’m doing the World Cup of netball this summer – I did it 20 years ago when it was here, and I commentated, presented and did the interviews.

“Now we’re sharing that coverage this year with Sky, and you can’t get a ticket for the arena. It’s sold out.

“Netball is an elite sport – it just happens to be played by women. The [New Zealand] Silver Ferns and Aussie Diamonds have as high a profile in their countries as their rugby teams.

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“These are iconic, strong women, who are elite athletes, who are role models to the younger generation of girls – and boys, by the way, because men’s netball is ‘a thing’ in the antipodes, just as women’s rugby is very much ‘a thing’, as it should be.

“We’re getting towards a more level playing field – or a more equal opportunity for women and boys to be involved in sport, to take part and to be inspired, not just by male role models but by female role models as well.

“And that’s surely as it should be. We are by our very nature an equal society. There are as many women as men. And surely there should be as many opportunities for us all.”

With only one exception, Hazel has been a key part of the British TV coverage of all the summer and winter Olympic Games since Seoul in 1988.

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And while she cites being part of the commentary team with Huw Edwards and Trevor Nelson for the opening ceremony of London 2012 as her career highlight, two events closer to home since then – Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games in 2014 and the multi-sport European Championships held in and around the city last summer – have special places in her heart too.

“I’m not sure we’ll ever have a period whereby we’ll have so much interest and so many massive events coming to our shores in such a short space of time,” she says.

“Because we’d had such a buzz from 2012, everybody thought, ‘Oooh, more of the same, please – that felt great watching that, I’ve never been so proud, give us more!’

“Glasgow really delivered in 2014. It really created something special. And I felt a real sense of pride in being able to convey so many aspects of the city’s history and legacy.

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“And the European Championships really was the surprise hit of last summer. I don’t think many people realised what it was until suddenly it landed on our laps, and we thought, ‘Hey, wait a minute – this is really good!’

“I did the Sports Business Awards in London last week, and Glasgow 2018 won the award for the best event in the whole of the UK for last year – and thoroughly deserved it. And I hope it comes back soon.”

London 2012’s opening ceremony was broadcast to a British TV audience of some 28 million people – but while an afternoon tea in Helensburgh might seem much less daunting, even to such an accomplished broadcaster and a household name, it doesn’t come without nerves.

“If you think about the [number of people watching the games on TV] it’ll freak you out, frankly,” she says. “An occasion like this one is a completely different experience.

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“I can’t see 28 million people but, at an event like this, even though I’m amongst friends, I can see 100 faces and how they’re feeling and reacting. Whether you’re boring people or whether they’re actually engaging with you, the feedback is instantaneous.

“But this is a wonderful occasion and I’m delighted to be here. It’s a lovely social gathering, and a lot of work goes into it, and it’s fantastic to see so much support for such a great cause.”