Sexist Wimbledon Commentary Causes Controversy for BBC

So John Inverdale, BBC Sports commentator, massively put his foot in it last week. Discussing Marion Bartoli, the newly-crowned female Wimbledon champion, he came out with this clanger:

‘I just wonder if her Dad, because he has obviously been the most influential person in her life, said to her when she was 12, 13, 14 maybe, ‘Listen, you are never going to be , you know, a looker. You are never going to be somebody like a Sharapova… you’re never going to be somebody with long legs, so you have to compensate for that.’

Marion BartoliThis – in all seriousness – is the question that John Inverdale chose to ask on BBC Radio 5 Live as Bartoli saw off her opponent Sabine Lisicki in straight sets and won £1.6m in prize money. The focus should clearly have been on Bartoli’s athleticism, determination and success. Talk about priorities…

Inverdale’s unfortunate musing during the women’s singles final meant apologies all round at the end of last week – the BBC issued a formal apology, and Inverdale himself apologised on-air on Sunday, stating that he had also apologised to Bartoli directly by letter.

Bartoli, when made aware of Inverdale’s comments about her, responded with grace, focussing on her sporting achievements and saying:

‘I am not blonde. Yes. That is a fact. Have I dreamed about having a model contract? No. I’m sorry. But have I dreamed about winning Wimbledon? Absolutely, yes.’

Bartoli also suggested that Inverdale might change his mind about her appearance if he saw her at the Wimbledon Champions’ Ball, where she would look decidedly more glamorous than she does playing championship tennis in uncharacteristically high British summer temperatures. Her response to Inverdale’s comments was intelligent and gracious, but the fact remains that her Wimbledon win – an undoubted peak in any tennis player’s career – was somewhat diminished by the comments, which were sexist and unacceptable from an experienced mainstream broadcaster.

What was particularly irksome about Inverdale’s comments, I felt, was the seemingly automatic assumption that he could cast judgement on Bartoli’s appearance. It was crushingly insensitive, but sadly it seems this type of comment is simply what Bartoli and many other female athletes have to contend with every time they step out on court to compete. As well as their performance being analysed, so is their appearance. I mean, no-one commented on the size of Andy Murray’s nose last week, did they?

Inverdale’s mention of Maria Sharapova – the famously blonde, long-limbed tennis star – in his comments about Bartoli were particularly interesting to me. I think the point John Inverdale was actually trying to make was that some women in sport use the fact that their looks are of importance to gain higher public recognition or sponsorship deals. It’s sad, but it’s a fact – it isn’t just world records or grand slam titles that sell, but looks that fit an accepted norm of what is considered attractive.

The problem here is that in attempting to make this point, Inverdale phrased a question that should never have been asked in a way that was demeaning, sexist and patronising – the mention of Bartoli’s father was particularly cruel, implying that poor little Marion wasn’t even attractive enough for Daddy. To me this really just serves to highlight how deeply ingrained Inverdale’s attitude towards female sports personalities who don’t fit the mould is – such sexism runs deep.

Frankly, whether you think Bartoli ‘a looker’ or not is completely irrelevant. Marion Bartoli was the hottest female player at Wimbledon this year as she walked away with the Venus Rosewater Dish and £1.6m to boot. She won the tournament, and rightly so. How she looked whilst doing it just really should not have mattered.

Photograph by Tais Melillo.

5 Responses to “Sexist Wimbledon Commentary Causes Controversy for BBC”
  1. Fran in Vancouver says:

    My mouth actually dropped open to hear that the commentator from the BBC – yes the BBC – had spoken about this young, intelligent, capable sports woman who had just won THE premier tennis championship so disgustingly, and that he was not fired immediately.

    Well done Marion – you looked beautiful at the Champions’ Ball and you are a Wimbledon Chamption – Yippee!

  2. Jez Ashberry says:

    Great post Amy, beautifully written.

  3. Frederick Forsyth says:

    John Inverdale may know a lot about tennis, but he is clearly yet to master the complexities of 20/20 vision!

  4. Dave. Just Dave. says:

    Inverdale did not address anything in a clumsy manner. He is an ill mannered oaf, who we can do without as a commentator.
    But the BBC looks after its own, and his incredible skills as a commentator are doubtless irreplaceable, and we should all rejoice that our licence fees go to pay for his pearls, dropping as the dew from heaven.

Leave A Comment