The BBC presenter John Inverdale has apologized to the Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli for describing her as “not a looker” shortly after her victory on Saturday, calling his remarks “clumsy” and “ham-fisted.”
Opening his coverage of Sunday’s men’s final for BBC 5 Live, Inverdale told radio listeners he had written to the player to apologize “if any offence was caused,” after his comments a day earlier sparked a furious response.
The BBC was forced to apologize after Inverdale, speaking before the start of Bartoli’s match against Germany’s Sabine Lisicki, told listeners of 5 Live: “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?’”
The comment provoked an immediate online backlash, with many taking to Twitter to condemn the presenter’s comments, some under the hashtag #everydaysexism.
“Appalling comments from John Inverdale. Imagine how that will affect all the young girls watching today,” wrote user @purpelle.
“John Inverdale is never going to be a looker, or a thinker, or as good at anything as Bartoli,” a second Twitter user said.
“Don’t hear them commenting on Murray’s looks,” wrote another.
“This is appalling. Tennis is one of the worst offenders in sport in terms of the focus on women athletes’ looks and the BBC needs to take action,” said Sue Tibbals, chief executive of the Women’s Sports and Fitness Foundation.
“I thought Bartoli was an absolute inspiration, so spirited and gutsy, and she does not deserve these outrageous remarks. This is not a one-off event from this presenter,” Tibbals said.
Having initially tried to defuse the row on Saturday by saying he had been attempting to “poke fun, in a nice way, about how she looks,” Inverdale was forced to return to the subject a day later, saying: “Before we start I probably ought to return to yesterday and a clumsy phrase I used.”
He said he had been trying to make the point “in a ham-fisted way” that “in a world where [players] are all six-foot tall,” Bartoli’s achievement was particularly impressive — the Frenchwoman is 1.7m.
“I have apologized to Marion by letter if any offence was caused and I do hope we can leave the matter there,” he said.
Asked about the comments following her match, Bartoli said: “It doesn’t matter, honestly. I am not blond, 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. And to share this moment with my dad was absolutely amazing and I am so proud of it.”
In remarks to French journalists, she added she wanted the BBC man to come and see her at the traditional end-of-Wimbledon ball in London.
“Good, I invite this journalist to come and see me this evening in ball gown and heels, and in my opinion he could change his mind,” she said.
She would be able to watch the match repeatedly on DVD and look at photographs of herself holding the trophy.
“That is the most important thing to me and not what I can do outside of the court,” Bartoli said.
Walter Bartoli, the player’s father, said: “The relationship between Marion and me has always been unbelievable so I don’t know what this reporter is talking about. When she was five years old she was playing like every kid and having fun on the tennis court. She’s my beautiful daughter.”
The BBC later said: “’We accept that this remark was insensitive and for that we apologize,” but it resisted calls for the commentator to be replaced for coverage of the men’s final as a result of his comments.