It has been an extraordinary two weeks of sport with the Lions, Murray and the now the start of the Ashes and so I am a little saddened to catch up over the weekend on the comments of John Inverdale on Marion Bartoli, the women’s Wimbledon champion.
Inverdale referenced the idea that the tennis champion is not a beauty and whether or not her father would have realised this and made plans for his daughter to compensate.
A clumsy comment? Definitely and terrible timing as well which compounded the error but what Inverdale is really guilty of is exposing an ugly truth? Something that we are not comfortable with.
That ours is a world where beauty is highly prized, valued and rewarded. For men to an extent but particularly so for women.
Open a magazine. Turn on the telly. Look in a newspaper. Go on-line. There are beautiful (and therefore successful and happy?) women everywhere.
The super model is the ultimate example. Women so famous they are known only by their Christian names. Linda, Christy, Claudia, Naomi, Giselle and Kate of course. Women who have done nothing more than be beautiful.
Male models anyone?
And so it is in sport.
It is no mystery why Maria Sharapova is the highest earning female sportswoman. Why she earns more than Serena Williams who outguns her on the court all day long. It is because she is beautiful and advertisers are keen to tag their brands on to her.
And are the advertisers wrong to do this? Are they being sexist to women and beastly to women not considered beautiful? It clearly works, otherwise they wouldn’t waste their money. So is the public consuming these brands guilty and complicit?
This is the point that I think John Inverdale was trying to make. That the Anna Kournikova career path was not going to be an option for Bartoli or the majority of the current crop of tennis hopefuls.
Kournikova earned millions no matter how she played. Her success was not a factor of her game. It didn’t matter if she exited early, just as long as she showed up looking as ‘beautiful’ as ever and our loving newspapers provided her with acres of space and the brands dutifully followed.
Beckham’s career and longevity has been significantly augmented by his looks and his pouting wife. For a man who was the fourth best player in the United team, he has done remarkably well – and being handsome has played well for him.
But Marili Bartoli will not enjoy the sponsorship whirlwind that surrounds our beautiful champions. Which I think is Inverdale’s point. That she will need to win her matches and championships – whereas Sharapova’s stock will continue to rise however many games she manages to win or not.
And finally a quick word on the venom and pure hatred that can be directed at people these days.
As liberating as the internet is, it is the perfect platform for bullying.
Bullying is something that most people loathe. The only thing worse than my kids being bullied – would be if my kids were the bullies themselves.
Bullying is something that we associate with children and the playground. As if bullying is something that we do to each other out of immaturity and something that we grow out of.
This is not the case at all. Bullying continues right through life and nowhere more so than on-line where anonymity emboldens people and encourages their invective.
Bullying people on-line is all so easy and can be extraordinarily cruel. Take for example, the individuals who gloated on FB about the suicide of a young woman or the mindless morons who have the inclination, not to mention the time, to hurl insults the way of Judy Murray. And for what? For daring to devote her life to her boy’s tennis careers? Thank God she did – judging by the outpouring of national pride and euphoria when her eldest won last weekend.
And add to this, the reality that we are increasingly a nation of victims. People taking extreme offence where none was intended – and demanding redress, apologies and of course, compensation.
Bartoli’s achievements on the tennis court are magnificent. Of all the women playing professional tennis – she is currently the player to beat – an incredible achievement.
However, even though she has made her name indelible in women’s sport, few will recall her next year if she doesn’t repeat her form.
And yet Anna Kournikova remains one of the world’s best known players. Retired now for how long and no slams to her name. I would imagine her career earnings will dwarf the earnings of Bartoli, Mauresmo, Martinez and Kvitova… all of whom won on our grass.
This is not a great reality.
An indictment on society and us all?
But certainly not the fault of one broadcast journalist who got it wrong and has since apologised – and the calls for his career to end are silly and wide of the mark.