Tuesday, 9 July 2013

A sort of cautious defence of John Inverdale

John Inverdale has made a lot of people cross by commenting on the appearance of Marion Bartoli, the highly likeable and quirky Wimbledom champion.

He commented, 'Do you think Bartoli’s dad told her when she was little, “You’re never going to be a looker?"’ This has lead to all sorts of accusations of being mean to Bartoli, to promoting negative views of female athletes and sexism and so on. Male players, we are told, are not subjected to this. Bartoli has also been subject to a lot of hateful comments on the internet by trolls calling her ugly.

I think Inverdale was actually trying to compliment Bartoli on her skill and work ethic, in a clumsy way. If any insult was intended, it was towards the likes of Sharapova and Kournikova, who are popular and attract sponsorship and media attention disproportionate to their ability.

The comment was meant to convey that Bartoli would have to actually win tournaments and stuff, rather than looking lithe and flashing her knickers. I think he was trying to say that, to be famous and beloved, she'd have to do it the hard way. If everyone is talking about her, it's because of her success as a tennis player. The full version of his comment bears this out:
Speaking on the show yesterday, Inverdale had said: ‘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".
‘"You are never going to be somebody like a Sharapova, you're never going to be 5ft 11, you're never going to be somebody with long legs, so you have to compensate for that". ‘
"You are going to have to be the most dogged, determined fighter that anyone has ever seen on the tennis court if you are going to make it", and she kind of is.'
Also, worth pointing out that male atheletes are frequently criticised for their appearance - think of the comments directed at Waybe Rooney, or at the nickname the Sun came up with for Jerzy Janowicz (Murray's semi final opponent) - Frankenstein. Ivan Lendl was called 'Darth Vader' in the 80s because he was perceived as sulky and dour, as if smiling and waving was part of his job - a criticism still levelled at Andy Murray.

I can even recall it being said about Michael Chang that he "wasn't sexy enough" to attract the sort of sponsorship that Andre Agassi could, when they were both emergent players. So it does happen to male and female athletes.

Obviously, Inverdale was stupid and should have kept his ill formed thoughts to himself - but it is fairly common for people to comment on athlete's looks, and the exceptional fuss aimed at Inverdale is a bit odd.

The internet trolls, on the other hand, should be sought out and killed.