One is a tale of mere triumph; the other of triumph cut with scorn. On July 7 Andy Murray finally won Wimbledon and climbed into the players’ box to celebrate; 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 title, Radio 5 Live presenter John Inverdale thought it an adequate moment to comment on her appearance — what else? “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. Even at this moment of exquisite delight, was Daddy ashamed of Marion’s inability to incite lust in Inverdale? I did not know professional women’s tennis was simply a vehicle for the expression of masculine desire in high temperatures; or that Inverdale had a right to feel aggrieved by Bartoli’s appearance — which is, by the way, perfectly acceptable. (She is, if it matters, and it doesn’t, pretty; but who is pretty enough in these days of dull homogenous beauty?) I do not wish that Murray had received the same grotesque treatment; but that he did not is remarkable.
Inverdale 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 if she is aware of the comments made about her on Twitter as she played — calling her, among other things, too ugly to rape. (In fact, the blogger made a factual error here, which compounded his psychopathy. No woman is too ugly to rape, because rape has nothing to do with desire.) But she 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 if she was painted with honey?
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, more prestigious and more 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. 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 …”
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 yesterday, 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, to the world.