Semra’s journey began in America, where she was born and raised in Los Angeles. Growing up she had two very simple passions: sports and travel. “Both of my parents were big sports buffs, my dad having grown up playing many American sports in particular,” she tells us. “There was also almost always some form of sport on the TV in the house, so a love for sport was indoctrinated pretty early on in my life, as was travel.”
As an only child, Semra’s parents encouraged her into sports as a way of socialising with other kids, which led her to take part in soccer, tennis, swimming, ballet, tap dancing, softball, badminton, horseback riding, and volleyball, where she incredibly became a junior US Olympic volleyball champion when she was 17. It was soccer though that always had her heart.
“When I was three years old I picked up a soccer ball for the first time, It was love at first sight. I was completely hooked.” She grew up as a Liverpool fan, thanks to her love of Michael Owen. This would be something that her Manchester United-supporting dad would eventually forgive her for! “Ever since I can remember, I wanted to become a professional soccer player and worked for many years towards that goal, but for a series of reasons I wasn’t able to make that dream come to fruition. Despite the heartbreak, that love and passion for football has always remained.”
You get the impression with Semra that she would quite happily slide into any challenge, taking it on, confronting it, and relishing it with courage. And that’s exactly what she did next. On graduating from the University of California, Berkley, Semra decided to take the bold step of moving to Madrid to complete a Masters in Sports Journalism and Communication.
When her mother was just 20, she had lived in Colombia and Mexico, where she learned and understood how important it was to speak various languages beyond just Spanish, learning Italian, Portuguese and French afterwards too. She instilled those ethics into Semra, who had been brought up to learn and speak Spanish fluently. This played a decisive part in her decision to study in Madrid, a place where she felt there would be more opportunities.
It was during her studies in Spain’s capital that she landed an internship with Al-Jazeera Sport and BeIN SPORTS. But within a few months, she found herself joining Real Madrid TV, the club’s official channel, to work as a reporter and eventually presenter in both English and Spanish.
During her time working for Real Madrid TV, she embraced every opportunity and challenge, working alongside global superstars, in the limelight of one of the most famous soccer clubs in the world. It was here she made memories that would last a lifetime.
She may not have been playing on the field of dreams she once imagined, but she was certainly living a dream, as she travelled with the club on their pre-season tour to Australia and China. It is a trip that would involve three demanding weeks of working 16–17 hour days, but the adrenaline and the realisation of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity kept Semra going.
It was experiences like this and witnessing the colours, the noise, and the energy of Spanish football that would make her fall even more in love with the game.
Each moment in Madrid proved to be invaluable throughout her career, and after two and a half years of pitch-side reporting, studio hosting and travelling the globe with the team, she made the huge decision to move to Istanbul, Turkey, to work as a Sports Anchor and Correspondent for the international network, TRT World.
Once more, just like Xavi, her head was always up, looking forward for other opportunities, and never getting too comfortable or complacent. It is that vision and ingenuity that has led her to where she is today, working with the likes of La Liga TV, ITV Sport and Sky Sports News.
Throughout her career, Semra has found herself editing and translating scripts, securing interviews, working pitch side, hosting in the studio, or on a plane headed somewhere to cover a major sporting event, feature story or interview. Essentially she has learned to become the Swiss-army knife of journalism: prepared for any occasion and eventuality.
She has worked her way from the bottom, to realise her dream of hosting World Cup coverage, and she has no intent of stopping there, with ambitions to one day host the Ballon d’Or, The Best FIFA Awards, and the UEFA Champions League Draw. From Los Angeles, all the way to the Champions League. You wouldn’t bet against it.
Semra’s unyielding work ethic comes from the love of her job. She sees every challenge as an opportunity to learn as she continues her ascent to becoming the Balon d’Or of broadcasting.
Her infectious personality and ability to work without a prompter means that everything she does is with a natural charisma that draws in her audience and guests. She is somebody who is always meticulously prepared, making sure to have notes and topics of discussion ready, leaving no stone unturned. It is this level of professionalism, her humble nature, attitude and character that are all admired by her colleagues. Make no mistake about it, Semra is an elite broadcaster, at every level.
It also has to be said that Semra isn’t just paving a pathway for women in sports broadcasting either. She’s also an example to anyone who wants to make it in an extremely competitive and demanding industry, and it was an absolute pleasure to sit down with her as she told us about her career so far, why women need to have a voice in football, and how travel fills her soul like nothing else.
It was in that moment that the seed was planted for what is now my career
Funny enough, after my dream of becoming a professional athlete didn’t come to pass, I deviated toward a different path once I got to college. As travel was my other huge passion, I was very drawn toward a potential career working in Embassies, living around the globe.
I went to UC Berkeley where I received my undergraduate degree in Peace and Conflict Studies (aka International Relations), only to realise that my vision of that kind of life was probably too idealised and politics just wasn’t going to be my thing. (You don’t know if you don’t try!)
It wasn’t until some years later that my mom had a brilliant idea, and mentioned that she thought working as a pitchside reporter would be very much up my alley. A perfect union between sports and travel. And it was at that moment that the seed was planted for what is now my career in sports broadcast journalism. Thanks, Mom!
I’d be crazy to turn down the biggest and one of the most successful clubs in football history
In 2012 I was living in Madrid, Spain, where I was in the process of getting my Masters in Sports Journalism and Communication. During my studies, I landed an internship with Al-Jazeera Sport at the same time that BeIN SPORTS was created, and ended up doing work for both. It was incredible. I was thrown straight into the deep end.
On my first day, I was sent out to film and edit a feature story. The first week I was entrusted with writing entire scripts for shows. And after two months, I was sent to do my first ever live pitchside cross to Miami (eek!). All without any experience. I was as green as they come.
I had to learn everything as I went along and worked my socks off to get up to speed as quickly as possible. And very soon, within just a few months of my internship, one of the bosses at Real Madrid TV contacted me to see if I would be interested in joining the club’s official channel to work as a reporter, and eventually presenter, in both English and Spanish. To which, of course, was a resounding YES. I’d be crazy to turn down the biggest and one of the most successful clubs in football history!
So after a month of interviews and screen tests – and just four months into my internship – I was hired. Total dream come true. It was a real whirlwind. Everything happened so fast.
It was a one-of-a-kind adventure and one that will live deep in my heart forever
After two and a half years of pitch side reporting, studio hosting and travelling the world with Real Madrid, I moved to Istanbul, Turkey, to work as a Sports Anchor and Correspondent for the international network, TRT World.
I loved my time in Turkey. Istanbul is one of the most magical cities – and personally, for me, it is the most magical city – that you’ll find on this planet. There’s really no place like it anywhere.
During my time there, I was either in the studio hosting our daily sports show, or on a plane headed somewhere to cover a major sporting event, feature story or interview. I had the privilege of doing so many cool things – covering the Euro 2016 in Paris, the red carpet at the Laureus Awards in Monaco, and the Euroleague Final Four in Istanbul.
At the start of 2018, two years into my time with TRT World, I decided to move back to Spain. I was so fortunate as just in the moment that I was moving to Barcelona, the stars aligned and LaLiga TV was created, my absolute dream job at the time. Initially, I was brought in as the matchday presenter. Now in my sixth season, I’ve done everything from hosting all the matchday coverage of every game on weekends and ‘Match of the Day’ style programs to travelling across Spain to conduct in-depth interviews with players, to hosting galas and other various media events for LaLiga – all in either English or Spanish.
In terms of ‘pinch me moments’, to be honest, that’s a tough one! Every experience has been so unique that it’s difficult to compare. But if I had to pick one, I would have to say the ultimate job so far has been hosting the Qatar 2022 World Cup. It is something that was top of my professional bucket list. I presented the entire tournament for Viacom for Indian audiences, alongside absolute legends: Wayne Rooney, Luis Figo, Robert Pires, Sol Campbell and Gilberto Silva. A month with these guys, just talking about life and football. Imagine! It was a one-of-a-kind adventure and one that will live deep in my heart forever.
It’s extremely important that women have a voice in football
When I first got to RMTV, I was hugely inspired by the person I was replacing – Kay Murray. Not only was she amazing in my eyes, but she was also much further along in her career than I was at that point. I felt that those were massive shoes to fill. So who better to learn from? I used to study previous shows from her time at the channel to see how she did things in order to pick up as much as I could.
As I learned more about other broadcasters in football – both in Spain and in England – I really started to admire people such as Michael Robinson (who is probably the most beloved football pundit in Spain – even still – following his very tragic early passing), Mark Chapman, Jorge Valdano, Kelly Cates. People I find to be very natural (which is my preferred style), professional, knowledgeable and some of the very best at their trade. As for a mentor, it’s always something I’ve wanted, but have never actually had. Maybe one day that will change!
We’re often held to different standards, and as such, there’s hardly ever any room to put a foot wrong. And I would say that that is also one of the biggest challenges. Breaking with the established norm, and getting people to accept that women can be just as good at the job as a man, if not better. The good news is that times are changing, and while there’s still a long way to go, we are closer to what should have been more normal, becoming just that.
Travel fills my soul in a way that almost nothing else can
Travel, travel and more travel! (I’m often told I travel too much, ha!) I don’t think there’s anything better in this life than having the opportunity to go and expand your mind by getting to know a new place. Learning about the people, the culture, the traditions, the gastronomy…it fills my soul in a way that almost nothing else can. So I guess that you could say my ideal day would be waking up in an exotic location, enjoying a fabulous coffee and breakfast to kick-start the day (my morning coffee or tea ritual is one of my favourite parts of every day), exploring the sights and sounds of wherever I may be, meeting and talking to new people, trying new things be it food or an activity, and ending the day in the company of loved ones having an all-encompassing conversation about fascinating topics.
I’ve been living on and off in Barcelona for about 15 years. It’s very much become my home, and for now, it’s the place that best suits my lifestyle. I’ve really grown to love it, though the first year admittedly took some getting used to.
It’s a beautiful city with a lot to offer – gorgeous architecture, great food, wonderful weather…not to mention some of the best football around (though these days are a bit of a work in progress, in truth!). I feel very fortunate to live in one of the best cities in Europe, and maybe even in the world.
All our thanks to Semra Hunter for her time.
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