What Inverdale’s dad told him when he was little


The BBC apologized for remarks made by John Inverdale about Marion Bartoli, an hour before the match which won her the Wimbledon Ladies singles competition. This story presents the BBC’s sports commentator John Inverdale as an unthinking sexist. Leaders We Deserve looks behind the outrage that ensued

First the story, as told by his employers the BBC [July 6th 2013]:

Inverdale’s comment came about an hour before the match began as he chatted to former Wimbledon champion Lindsay Davenport about Bartoli’s technique as a player. He 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 [supermodel such as] 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’s comments on Radio 5 live as the French player prepared to face Germany’s Sabine Lisicki provoked anger from many listeners. A BBC spokesperson said: “We accept that this remark was insensitive and for that we apologise.”

Inverdale’s Wimbledon Ways

John Inverdale’s Wimbledon was marked by his engaging style of interaction with players and commentators. He was (if I may borrow from his own words) slightly mocked for his boyish enthusiasm for Bartoli’s opponent, Sabine Lisicki, and also about how he was wont to nip down from the commentator’s box to get closer to her when she was playing her games.

They freak you out, your mum and dad

Bartoli’s father has indeed been the subject of stories about his influence over his immensely gifted daughter. Inverdale might have imagined Bartoli pere saying (in translation) “Listen, my little one. You have an IQ measured at 175, nearly twice that of the average tennis commentator. You have to compensate for that by developing a funny style of playing tennis before winning Wimbledon.”

What Inverdale’s dad told him

What Inverdale’s dad told him [we reveal in a flight of fancy] was

“Listen old boy. You will never be known as the sharpest knife in the box. You will never become an Albert Einstein. But nature has blessed you with natural good looks and you are tall enough to play rugby. You will be able to make your way in life, thanks to the bank of mum and dad. You will go to the best school my money as a Navy Dental Surgeon can buy. There you will learn the ways of endearing yourself to all sorts of people, even women. A bright career lies ahead of you.”

And so it came to pass. The BBC deserves credit for recognizing such talents and promoting their careers above others with more natural gifts of intelligence and sensitivity.

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3 Responses to What Inverdale’s dad told him when he was little

  1. Sharon soon says:

    It is interesting how we as humans (particularly men) cannot fight our genetically programmed mind. Consciously or subconsciously we are attracted to beauty, and we judge based on beauty more than performance. Regardless of how much Bartoli or the Williams sisters achieve on court, they can never match Sharapova in terms of publicity and endorsement deals. Perhaps that is why those of us not blessed with natural beauty may work extra hard to gain success and prove ourselves to the Inverdales of our world.

  2. MJ says:

    Sharon – That is a good point. No matter how hard humans may try to be entirely rational there is a biological muscle memory in all of us which attracts us to beauty, however if a female commentator had made a comment about Nadal being attractive for instance (apparently, according to some female friends he is the most attractive male player) would this cause such a fuss? Likely not…

    It’s not nice or pleasant to make the comment that John Inverdale did as ultimately people do not choose their looks %100 and the item she was being judged on – playing tennis – was the key thing at that time. Nonetheless the fuss made about it was a bit over the top. At the end of the day, Bartoli is the one sitting there smiling with the big fat winners cheque!

  3. Thanks Sharon and MJ . You make some fair points. LWD has commented on the advantages that perceived beauty offers a leader. But if not being beautiful, then being noticed can work as well.
    Best wishes

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