World Cup: Jacqui Oatley talks career, Qatar and the USMNT

If there is an obscure question about the 2022 World Cup in years to come Jacqui Oatley will likely know the answer.

The British broadcaster, 47, is gearing up for her 16th major football tournament in Qatar as a play-by-play announcer for television giant FOX Sports.

Twenty years in the industry has seen her describe Champions League, the Premier League as well as England’s Women’s Super League action, working for the likes of the UK’s BBC, ITV and Sky Sports networks. 

The game has also taken her far and wide, calling some of the biggest international matchups in world soccer in countries such as South Africa, Canada, Russia and France.

But the Qatar World Cup will be the first time she’s has been the voice of the showpiece tournament for a US audience.

Jacqui Oatley is a play-by-play announcer for FOX Sports at the Qatar World Cup this winter

‘I was absolutely told in no uncertain times “do not say soccer,”‘ Oatley, who will team up with summarizer Warren Barton, exclusively tells

The question of whether she needed to adapt her terminology to reflect the viewers was her immediate focus. 

‘No, definitely not,’ was the response. ‘That’s why we hired you because we want you to bring yourself. Just speak how you always speak.’

Oatley, from Wolverhampton – a city around 130 miles north west of London, hones her style by leaving no stone unturned and totally ‘immersing’ herself in the competition.

The preparation for the showpiece tournament is almost over with fans descending on Doha

‘I’m a prepper. That’s what gives me joy. Then I can go and enjoy the games if I know I’m prepared,’ she says.

‘If I feel like I’m on the back foot, then I won’t be able to enjoy it as much. So that’s why I’ve worked so hard in the build up.

‘I’ve been writing a lot of notes on the kitchen chalkboard. I’ve really been focusing on the preparation and then I think having done that the rest will take care of itself.’

Oatley will deliver nine commentaries in just eleven days, starting with the Group D opener between Denmark and Tunisia on Tuesday at 8:00am ET.

Her coverage moves on to nations including Morocco, Cameroon, Japan and Spain.

Oatley will commentate on Christian Eriksen in her first game which sees Denmark face Tunisia

Oatley will commentate on Christian Eriksen in her first game which sees Denmark face Tunisia

‘My prep has taken me into all sorts of nooks and crannies around the world,’ she admits.

‘It’s been quite nice to just lock myself away and just swim in a sea of statistics.’

Oatley’s desire to be well-equipped has led to notes north of 450 players, managers and coaching staff combined. 

After beginning her research long before the 26-man rosters were finalized, Oatley’s knowledge has extended to professionals who won’t even feature at the month-long tournament.

‘Personally, I’m more interested in the stories,’ she continues.

Oatley has tried to find out personal and interesting backstories about the Tunisia squad

Oatley has tried to find out personal and interesting backstories about the Tunisia squad

‘I always try to bring stories out in commentary, not just statistics.

‘I think people watching who are not massively invested in a particular nation if you can pick out a couple of really interesting back stories and thread them through in the commentary I think it can help to make the viewer feel connected to that player or that team, and feel a little bit invested in them.

‘Sometimes I spend way too much time on the reserve right back, for example, of some nation that we might not see too much of usually. 

‘But if he’s got a really interesting story, and if he comes on, and if it it’s relevant, then sometimes it’s quite nice to share those stories with people, if it’s particularly unusual. 

‘But that’s what you get with World Cups, isn’t it? There’s always fascinating stories.’

Oatley commentates on England's Women's Super League for British broadcaster Sky Sports

Oatley commentates on England’s Women’s Super League for British broadcaster Sky Sports

Those tales have been dissected between shuttling her two children back and forth to sports practice. 

‘I sit in the passenger seat, get the car booster seat, put that on my lap, and that made a really good desk,’ Oatley reveals.

‘I put my laptop on there and then I have an iPad on the dashboard with my other set of notes.’

The pile of endless pages will hit the Education City Stadium in Doha in three days’ time, but there will be no room for her tried and tested music stand. The innovative method ‘to glance’ at her information has not made the cut.

Oatley always plans to memorize and intended to use the flight out to do just that, but may well need to refresh her memory of one minute piece of detail.

Oatley commentating for ITV Sport at the 2018 World Cup in Russia

Oatley commentating for ITV Sport at the 2018 World Cup in Russia

Oatley voluntarily gave up her weekends and evenings when she changed career in her 20s.

Not having the option to soak up every match of a World Cup due to work commitments was difficult. Action to avoid that scenario cropping up again was a matter of urgency.


Tuesday, November 22: Denmark vs. Tunisia, 8:00am ET, FS1

Wednesday, November 23: Morocco vs. Canada, 5:00am ET, FS1 

Thursday, November 24: Switzerland vs. Cameroon, 5:00am ET, FS1 

Friday, November 25: Wales vs. Iran, 5:00am ET, FS1

Saturday, November 26: Poland vs. Saudi Arabia, 8:00am ET, FS1

Monday, November 28: Cameroon vs. Serbia, 5:00am ET, FS1

Wednesday, November 30: Australia vs. Denmark, 10:00am ET, FS1

Thursday, December 1: Japan vs, Spain, 2:00pm ET, FOX

Friday, December 2: Serbia vs. Switzerland, 2:00pm ET, FS1 

‘I’m a football geek and a football anorak,’ she admits. 

‘I just didn’t expect not to be allowed to watch every game in the World Cup. I didn’t realize that’s what the real world was about. 

‘Having been utterly miserable because I had a proper job to do, and thinking this is weird. 

‘I realized that’s not for me, and I needed to do something about it.’

Oatley tried to fill the void by splashing out on a pocket television, arranging meetings around games but she craved more.  

Her burning desire led her to Sheffield and Radio Leeds in the north of England, where she juggled a broadcast journalism post-graduate course and the intricacies of non-league football.

Oatley threw herself into the patch, providing her own spin on the games that mattered to hardcore fans.

‘I think the work ethic started there. I just loved it. It didn’t feel like work. I was totally obsessed,’ she says.

The kick out of telling supporters in their homes the big news also helped to replace the hole created by her own sporting heartbreak.

‘Football definitely didn’t miss out on a talent,’ Oatley openly admits, but she was told she could no longer play the game or other sports due to a serious knee injury.

The urge to get her football fix has resulted in 12-hour days, seven days a week.

The demanding schedule and the relentless nature of the football circus means there’s little time to stop and think. 

In the infancy of her roving reporter days Oatley didn’t get ahead herself and was solely focused on the audience she served. 

The USMNT's Christian Pulisic (L) and Brenden Aaronson will line up against England on Friday

The USMNT’s Christian Pulisic (L) and Brenden Aaronson will line up against England on Friday 

‘I didn’t think far ahead. I didn’t think “Oh I wonder if one day I’ll go to a World Cup” not at all,’ she says.

Prior to this sit-down she added to her notes on her phone by watching World Cup documentaries while exercising in the gym.

She doesn’t ‘switch off’ or ‘take anything for granted’ but when pressed on whether she finds her job surreal she does concede ‘it’s quite mad’.

The realization of it all hit home when commentating with a view of Cape Town’s Table Mountain at the 2010 edition of the global tournament. 

The World Cup held 12 years ago was the last time the USMNT met England and the USA stunned the Three Lions by snatching a point in the group stage.

The two nations matchup again on Friday in the second clashes of Group B with Gareth Southgate’s troops out for redemption following goalkeeper Robert Green’s infamous howler to allow Clint Dempsey to equalize.

England are considered as the favorites to progress to the knockout rounds with the runner-up spot viewed as a straight shootout between Wales and Gregg Berhalter’s team, while Iran are outsiders.

England will be out for redemption after Robert Green's infamous howler against USA in 2010

England will be out for redemption after Robert Green’s infamous howler against USA in 2010

With the excitement surrounding her role with Fox, Oatley is desperate for the USA to make its mark, although believes its success depends on the fitness of Welsh captain Gareth Bale.

‘Whoever you work for you just really want the nation that you’re broadcasting to do well because it just lifts everybody,’ she says.

‘I did the 2016 Euros and Wales was just an unbelievable story. It was incredible. Everyone would admit that Bale massively drove them and drove them, and I think if he’s fit and firing then that’s a problem for USA.’ 

Oatley gives England’s failure to qualify for the 2008 European Championships to best explain the unwanted deflated feeling.

‘I worked, it was just horrible. You just feel flat when the nation you’re broadcasting to isn’t there.’

Oatley wants USA to make its mark, but believes a fit Gareth Bale (L) may have other ideas

Oatley wants USA to make its mark, but believes a fit Gareth Bale (L) may have other ideas

Oatley will supply the play-by-play action for Wales vs. Iran on Black Friday as her only Group B game. 

Whoever does navigate out of the group tournament favorites Brazil won’t be on the opposite side until the semifinals.

When asked for who she sees claiming the elusive prize on December 18, Oatley says: ‘I think there are so many more factors than just looking at the size of the nation or how good individuals are. You have to think about the opposition.

‘But having said all that, I can see why a lot of people are going for Brazil because you look at the firepower they’ve got it just blows your mind and the talent they’re able to not pick as well.

Oatley can see why Brazil are favorites to go all the way and seal glory on Sunday, December 18

Oatley can see why Brazil are favorites to go all the way and seal glory on Sunday, December 18

‘Then there’s Argentina and you see how much talent they’ve got by the way. But I do think Brazil are favorites for a reason.’

Oatley will watch the business end of the tournament back home in the UK with her final commentary out in Qatar on December 2.

Less than 48 hours later she’ll have to disregard all those weird and wonderful stats she needed and return to her very own ‘cockpit’ to prepare for another weekend of WSL action.

She’ll also have to balance those with helping her mom move house… Is that portable TV still around?