Ranjona Banerji: Social prejudices rule in Britain on Murray win

10 Jul,2013

By Ranjona Banerji

 

Andy Murray’s win at Wimbledon has been celebrated across Britain. The Times, London called him “The History Boy”, The Guardian, The Independent and The Scotsman all went with the simple but evocative “Champion”, The Daily Express said he was “Magical Murray”. Some said a knighthood was on its way, “At Last, “Wimbledone”, “Yes!” and “Golden Boy” were some of the others.

 

But where there is media, can controversy be far away? It started in fact on Saturday, July 6, just before the ladies singles final was to be played. John Inverdale, a BBC radio commentator had this to say about Marion Bartoli who went on to become the champion, “‘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 (Maria) Sharapova, you’re never going to be 5ft 11in, you’re never going to be somebody with long legs, so you have to compensate for that.”

 

Bartoli is undoubtedly a quirky player with some tennis court rituals that are out of the ordinary (though perhaps Rafael Nadal wins that one). But what her physical beauty has to do with her tennis playing skills was not made clear by Inverdale or anyone else who thinks that female tennis players must be good-looking before they pick up a racquet.

 

Inverdale’s sexist comments are part of an almost accepted form of conversation as far as the women’s game is concerned. It is possible that he even thought he was being funny, as this is how he explained his remarks: “She is an incredible role model for people who aren’t born with all the attributes of natural athletes.”

 

His apology included these remarks: “The point I was trying to make, in a rather ham-fisted kind of way, was that in a world where the public perception of tennis players is that they’re all 6ft tall Amazonian athletes, Marion – who is the Wimbledon champion – bucks that trend.”

 

It is unclear however whether these are Inverdale’s thoughts – that all female tennis players ought to be 6 ft tall blondes – or whether indeed, this is true. Of course, the Williams sisters spring to mind seeing as how they have been the most dominant of recent times.

 

But if Inverdale’s sexism was bad, things were about to get a lot worse. In the hysteria of excitement at Andy Murray’s victory, the British press sort of forgot that Murray was the first man to win a Wimbledon singles title in 77 years. Since Fred Perry’s victory in 1936, four women have been Wimbledon singles champions. Virginia Wade, who won in 1977, is a prominent commentator and columnist, even if the other three have been forgotten.

 

Tennis is the only sport in the world where women play at the same level, in the same tournaments and get paid the same amount of money as men. It is a shame therefore that social prejudices should be reflected so thoroughly in the media which ought to know better. Yes, there is no doubt that in the men’s game, Andy Murray has made a massive breakthrough. But there is surely no need to disrespect the women who have achieved exactly what he has. Yet both The Times and The Telegraph have similar headlines about the end to a 77-year wait for a British win.

 

This link from The Guardian makes it clear: http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/shortcuts/2013/jul/08/virginia-wade-wimbledon-champion-tennis

 

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator based in Mumbai. She is also Contributing Editor, MxMIndia. She can be reached via Twitter at @ranjona. The views here are her own

 

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