Fury over BBC commentary on tennis star's looks

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Nearly 700 people have complained to the BBC after Radio 5 presenter John Inverdale made derogatory comments about tennis star Marion Bartoli's appearance at the Wimbledon women's final.

Discussing the Frenchwoman, who beat favourite Sabine Lisicki to the coveted Grand Slam trophy on Saturday, Inverdale told listeners she was "not a looker".

"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."

Inverdale later apologised for his "clumsy" and "ham-fisted" comments, which he said had "understandably caused something of a furore" and wrote a personal letter of apology to the player.

However, he did also admit: "We poked fun, in a nice way, about how she looks ... but Marion Bartoli is an incredible role model."

Bartoli's response was to remind Inverdale she is a tennis player, not a model. "It doesn't matter, honestly. I am not blonde, 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.

"I am sure I will be able to watch the DVD of the match over and over again and look at the picture of me when I am holding the trophy in my arms. That is the most important thing to me and not what I can do outside of the court."

The BBC followed Inverdale's apology with an official one from the broadcasting house, but revealed it had received 674 complaints about the incident.

Perhaps Inverdale was trying to suggest he defines "looker" as someone who's tall with long legs and those are attributes he thinks tennis stars should have. However, height is not always advantageous in tennis - at 5'5 inches Justine Henin, for example, is two inches shorter than Bartoli.

And we'd kind of expect the sports presenter to know that.

Words: Anna Pollitt. Images: Kapil Bhagat, Rex Features


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