A sportsperson won a Wimbledon Singles title this weekend. In fact, it was her first ever Grand Slam win. A huge achievement for Marion Bartoli, even more so because she played the entire tournament without dropping a single set, a feat very few tennis players – male or female – have ever achieved.
Unfortunately, the BBC’s John Inverdale managed to reduce this sportsperson to the sum of her looks. Forget sporting ability or achievement: in 2013 it is still more important for a woman to be sexually appealing. Following Bartoli’s two-set victory in the Ladies’ Singles final, Inverdale made this quite astoundingly offensive assertion to BBC Radio 5 Live listeners:
“I just wonder if her dad, because he has obviously been the most influential person in her life, did say to her when she was 12, 13, 14 maybe, ‘listen, you are never going to be, you know, a looker.”
Inverdale is employed by the BBC as a sports broadcaster. The fact that he felt entitled to freely admit to listeners that he doesn’t find Bartoli sexually desirable demonstrates – not for the first time recently – that the BBC quite likes employing misogynistic dinosaurs. The fact that he is still in a job demonstrates that the BBC, despite all the revelations over the past twelve months or so, still does not take sexism seriously. In fact, the Corporation rubbed salt in the wound when they wheeled out a spokesman to deliver this half-hearted attempt at an apology:
“We accept that this remark was insensitive and for that we apologise.”
This ‘apology’ further compounds the original slur by implying that there is some truth in Inverdale’s remark. Why “insensitive”? Why choose that word instead of “unacceptable”, “unprofessional”, “irrelevant” or – let’s call a spade a spade – “sexist”?
The BBC is a public service broadcaster. It is paid for by every person in the UK through the TV Licence fee. It has a huge responsibility to its audience. What message does it send to its viewers and listeners that it has failed entirely to provide an appropriate apology for Inverdale’s remark? The underlying message is that, at the BBC, sexism is both acceptable and condoned. The message is that it is perfectly permissable to judge a sportswoman on her looks as opposed to her sporting abilities (quite unlike her male counterparts). The message is that the BBC, far from learning from its past mistakes, in fact intends to continue in pretty much the same vein.
Bartoli’s response to the Inverdale remark got straight to the nub of the matter:
“I am not blonde, yes. That is a fact. Have I dreamt about having a model contract? No. I’m sorry. But have I dreamed about winning Wimbledon? Absolutely, yes.”
Marion Bartoli, you did yourself and your country proud. I am sorry about the sexism of our public broadcaster. When you return to Wimbledon next year, I very much hope that John Inverdale has been put out to grass.