UK
08/07/2013 11:24 BST

Marion Bartoli Sexism Row: BBC Receives Hundreds Of Complaints Over John Inverdale Comments

More than 600 people have complained to the BBC after presenter John Inverdale suggested Wimbledon winner Marion Bartoli was "never going to be a looker".

A spokesman for communications watchdog Ofcom confirmed it had received a small number of complaints which are being assessed to see if they breached the broadcasting code.

Inverdale made the remark on Radio 5 live shortly after the French player defeated Germany's Sabine Lisicki on Centre Court on Saturday, telling 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?"

marion bartoli

Marion Bartoli of France speaks at a news conference after winning the Women's singles final match

His comments sparked outrage on Twitter where one user branded him a "sexist dinosaur" and another called for him to be stripped of his job.

It has sparked numerous newspaper columns on Monday morning, comparing the reaction of commentators to Andy Murray's Wimbledon victory.

The Guardian's Tanya Gold wrote: "I did not know professional women's tennis was simply a vehicle for the expression of masculine desire in high temperatures; or that Inverdale had a right to feel aggrieved by Bartoli's appearance – which is, by the way, perfectly acceptable.

"She is, if it matters, and it doesn't, pretty; but who is pretty enough in these days of dull homogenous beauty?

"I do not wish that Murray had received the same grotesque treatment; but that he did not is remarkable."

"Those who thought she was not pleasing enough to look at to deserve to win are symptomatic of the wider problem of women always being expected to not just look good, but to look good in a way that men approve of," blogged Philippa Willitts on The F Word.

"And, of course, when different men have different tastes and preferences we get to a point where we can never win, even if we do bother to try. Bartoli's performance should be enough, and I daresay the winner of the men's single won't be subject to a barrage of abuse about his appearance."

Huffington Post blogger Joy Goh-Mah wrote: "What does physical attractiveness have to do with sport? Absolutely nothing. And if we want to encourage little girls to pick up a racquet, to throw a ball, and to aspire to sporting greatness, then we need to stop cementing the notion that female athletes, and indeed all women, will only be successful and appreciated if they happen to meet societal beauty standards as well."

Inverdale attempted to clarify the "ham-fisted" comment on Sunday and said he had written to Bartoli to apologise for using a "clumsy phrase", but the BBC said it had received 674 complaints.

It also apologised for the comments while Inverdale addressed the issue as the station opened its coverage of the men's final on Sunday.

"Before we start, I'd like to return to yesterday and a clumsy phrase that I used about Marion Bartoli which has understandably caused something of a furore," he said.

"The point I was trying to make in a rather ham-fisted kind of way is that the public perception of tennis players is that they're all 6 feet-tall Amazonian athletes.

"Marion, who is the Wimbledon champion, bucks that trend, and she is a fantastic example to all young people that it's attitude, and will and determination together obviously with talent that in the end gets you to the top.

"I've apologised to Marion by letter if any offence was caused and I do hope that we can leave the matter there."

Bartoli said she would not let the comments detract from her grand slam success.

"It doesn't matter," she said. "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 it (the trophy) in my arms.

"That is the most important thing to me and not what I can do outside of the court."

Walter Bartoli, who has coached his daughter since childhood, deftly brushed of the slur. “I am not angry,” he said. “She is my beautiful daughter.”