Bartoli: Sexism in sport is spite and lust

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

Advertisting

Unions slam move to cut wage bill

Cosatu rejects job losses and a wage freeze for public servants, calling this ‘a declaration of war’

Coronavirus: South Africa will evacuate citizens from Wuhan

The government is expected to evacuate citizens from Wuhan, where the coronavirus outbreak originated

Primedia CEO Essack leaves following internal battles

Omar Essack leaves the 702 and 94.7 owners after a protracted standoff with the board

‘We’re satisfied with SA’s land reform policy’— US Ambassador

Top US official is lobbying multinational firms to invest in South Africa

Press Releases

Over R400-m given to businesses since launch of three-minute overdraft

The 3-minute overdraft radically reduces the time it takes for businesses to have their working capital needs met

Tourism can push Africa onto a new path – minister

The continent is fast becoming a dynamic sought-after tourist destination

South Africa’s education system is broken and unequal, and must be fixed without further delay

The Amnesty International report found that the South African government continues to miss its own education upgrading targets

Business travel industry generates billions

Meetings Africa is ready to take advantage of this lucrative opportunity

Conferences connect people to ideas

The World Expo and Meetings Africa are all about stimulating innovation – and income

SAB Zenzele Kabili B-BBEE share scheme

New scheme to be launched following the biggest B-BBEE FMCG payout in South Africa’s history

Digging deep

Automation is unstoppable, but if we're strategic about its implementation, it presents major opportunities

TFSAs are the gymnasts of the retirement savings world

The idea is to get South Africans to save, but it's best to do your research first to find out if a TFSA is really suited to your needs