Bartoli: Sexism in sport is spite and lust

Marion Bartoli beat Sabine Lisicki in the women's final of the Wimbledon Championships tennis tournament. (AFP)

Marion Bartoli beat Sabine Lisicki in the women's final of the Wimbledon Championships tennis tournament. (AFP)

Last Sunday, Andy Murray finally won Wimbledon. Saturday on centre court was less edifying. As the French tennis player Marion Bartoli climbed through the crowds to hug her father after winning the women's singles, BBC radio presenter John Inverdale commented on her appearance.

"Do you think," he mused moronically, "Bartoli's dad told her when she was little: 'You're never going to be a looker, you'll never be a [Maria] Sharapova, so you have to be scrappy and fight'"? He even had the malice to place the words in her father's mouth; poor Bartoli, not even pretty enough for Daddy.

Inverdale, who later apologised, had said earlier that any mocking of Bartoli's looks was done "in a nice way" and that "she is an incredible role model for people who aren't born with all the attributes of natural athletes". I would have thought that winning Wimbledon displayed all the attributes of a natural athlete, except Inverdale did not personally desire Bartoli; in that, she failed.

I do not know whether Bartoli is aware of the Twitter comments made as she played – calling her, among other things, too ugly to rape. (A factual error to compound the blogger's psychopathy: no woman is too ugly to rape, because rape has nothing to do with desire.) Bartoli was told of Inverdale's comment and said: "I am not blonde, yes. That is a fact."

Ah yes, blonde. Blonde is considered an attribute in a female tennis player, if you don't care who wins, and I am not sure Inverdale does; it's only women's tennis, after all, and if the game is so uninteresting, being played by women, why not discuss the more important matters?

Who can forget the fantastically blonde Anna Kournikova, who failed to win the Wimbledon singles title, but looked so lovely losing that front pages of newspapers clung to her, as though she was painted with honey?

If the calls for Inverdale to be fired grow louder he will be handed the victim mantle. He will be posited as the scapegoat of a radical feminist plot to obliterate lust, joy, blonde hair, pigtails (why not?), miniskirts and a beguiling sheen of sweat (nothing terrifying or mannish). So many young female tennis players look like dolls, the confusion of woman with (sex) doll is almost natural for the broadcaster swimming in the miasma of his own idiocy.

'Ugliness is always more forgivable'
Except it is a remark that exposes the wider culture. Sexism and the explicit discussion of the female body is still acceptable; that it exists in the sporting arena, where women thrive because they are strong, is only more offensive.

Women are judged on their appearance everywhere, the better to ignore their skills; in a male, ugliness is always more forgivable.

It is well established that men's sport is more exposed, prestigious and lucrative, although Wimbledon has had parity of prize money since 2007; in the 18 months to August 2011, women's sport comprised only 0.5% of sponsorship and 5% of TV coverage in the United Kingdom.

The cyclist Lizzie Armitstead, who won Britain's first medal in the 2012 Olympics, called the sexism she faced "overwhelming. It's the obvious things – the salary, media coverage…"

Over the course of 2012, London mayor Boris Johnson yearned for more sport in schools, mostly because it would produce "semi-naked women … glistening like wet otters".

Heptathlete Jessica Ennis was called fat by an unnamed UK Athletics executive; Frankie Boyle compared the swimmer Rebecca Adlington with a dolphin.

This is a culture in which Holger Osieck, the manager of the Australian football team, can say "women should shut up in public"; in which the former boxing champion Amir Khan can warn female boxers: "When you get hit it can be very painful"; and in which the American network NBC can air a slow-motion montage of female athletes wobbling, like Olympians who have wandered, obliviously, into a porn shoot.

It is a foul pottage of denigration, inadequacy, spite and lust; consider this, and Inverdale's remark is barely strange. He should have been fired; instead he waffled excitably a day later, commenting on Murray's win. He did not, of course, disclose whether the exact size, or shape, or site of Andy Murray's nose is a grievous personal disappointment to him, to Murray's mother, or to the world. – © Guardian News & Media 2013



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