Saturday 16 November 2019

British minister attacks BBC over sexist sports coverage

BBC commentator John Inverdale.
BBC commentator John Inverdale.

Alice Philipson,

BRITISH Culture Secretary Maria Miller has attacked the BBC over its sexist sports coverage in a scathing letter to the director-general of the corporation.

In the letter, Mrs Miller made clear her anger over derogatory comments made by John Inverdale, one of its most high-profile presenters, about the new Wimbledon women’s singles champion Marion Bartoli.

She demanded updates on “any further action that is likely to be taken” and expressed concern that the comments would alienate aspiring sportswomen.

Following Bartoli’s straight sets victory over the German Sabine Lisicki, John Inverdale asked BBC Radio 5 Live listeners: “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.’”

Mrs Miller wrote to BBC director-general Lord Hall: “I am writing to express my concerns over the comments made by John Inverdale about Marion Bartoli, during the BBC’s radio coverage of the Wimbledon women’s final last weekend.

"It is ... a matter of some concern to me that any comment on the looks and stature of a female athlete could be made in the context of one of the highlights of the UK’s, and indeed the world’s, sporting calendar.

 “I am sure you will agree with me that it is vital that young women and girls in this country feel motivated both to take part in and to watch coverage of sport, and to know that they are included in the enjoyment of sport, and catered for by the media just as much as the male audience.

She went on: "Whilst I note that Mr Inverdale has apologised both on-air and in writing to Ms Bartoli, I would be grateful for an update on any further action that is likely to be taken following [the] complaints, and whether there may be positive steps that the BBC could take in the future to ensure that the perception of and commentary on female athletes, and women’s sport generally, are as positive and inclusive as possible.”

Inverdale’s comments sparked hundreds of complaints to the BBC and prompted the BBC to apologise over the incident.

Mrs Miller sent the letter to the BBC last week, with the one year anniversary of the Olympics this weekend. It is understood she wanted to make clear her unhappiness with the Mr Inverdale's comments, combined with the ban on women members at Muirfield golf club, where the Open is being played this weekend.

She copied the letter to the chairman of the BBC Trust, Lord Patten.

Mrs Miller is believed to be concerned about how women in sport are viewed and has held a meeting with broadcasters about their coverage in the past.

Aides said she that she had organised "several round tables with broadcasters over the last year about improving coverage of women's sport".

A Government source said: "There are now one million more women playing sport as part of the Olympic legacy, which is fantastic.

"But despite this there are still national sporting events being held at clubs that refuse to allow women and BBC journalists referring to women in a sexist and derogatory fashion at a highlight of the British sporting calendar.

"The culture secretary is clear that this is a problem which can't be ignored."

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