Is it really a sexist comment if it doesn’t make sense?
BBC 5’s John Inverdale has landed in hot water for his commentary of the Wimbeldon Women’s Final won by Marion Bartoli over Sabine Lisicki.
The comment in question was:
“Do you think Bartoli’s dad told her when she was little ‘You’re never going to be a looker. You’ll never be a Sharapova, so you have to be scrappy and fight’?”
What followed was fury of comments on social media outraged at Inverdale’s fascination with looks. Let’s back things up. The media has focused on the looks of female tennis since at least the days of Steffi Graf, and it was probably the treatment of camera friendly but winning-adverse Anna Kournikova that really sent things out of control. It’s true that men’s tennis does not come under the same aesthetic scrutiny as women’s tennis. For both forms of the game when you hold a trophy aloft, everyone has their photo taken. However outside of sports reports, looks affect media interest. Even in the men’s game Pete Sampras never graced as many copies of Cleo as GQ as Rafael Nadal. Looks count for something.
Back to the comment in question. I suggest we stop assuming someone is being sexist in their comments during sport. Perhaps their verbal shot execution doesn’t live up to their aim. If you look at Inverdale’s words, more than perhaps sexist, they’re simply ridiculous and wrong.
‘You’re never going to be a looker. You’ll never be a Sharapova, so you have to be scrappy and fight.”
What’s the connection between success and looks? Certainly it’s a factor when it comes to endorsements and sponsorships. But winning games and winning tournaments? There is none. Ask Kournicova. Ask Sampras.
Bartoli proved when you’ve just won the biggest tournament on the planet, it doesn’t really matter what anyone says anyway. She responded in her press conference with an equal amount of wit and diplomacy:
“It doesn’t matter, honestly. 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.”
No father, coach or person with a brain would ever tell someone you need to work harder on the court because you may not court the attention of the cameras. It’s nonsensical. With time and thought, Inverdale offered a better explanation of his words:
“The point I was trying to make, in a rather ham-fisted kind of way, was that in a world where the public perception of tennis players is that they’re all 6ft tall Amazonian athletes, Marion – who is the Wimbledon champion – bucks that trend.”
It’s easy for your words to shoot off in all sorts of directions when balls are flying at 100km an hour.
Forgive and forget.