Overheard at Wimbledon: The hot and cold nature of French tennis players

June 27, 2014


Wimbledon’s tennis tournament each year provides many examples of discussion suggesting the irresistible temptation for commentators to indulge in national stereotypes. The following is offered for practice in discourse analysis

BBC’s Radio 5 Live [606 Wavelength]re-labels its self as ‘Radio Six Love Six’ for Wimbledon fortnight. The following exchange between two [English] commentators was broadcast today, as play was starting [ 27th June 2014] in a third round match in the Gentlemen’s Singles competition

First English commentator
He’s a beautiful player, so graceful and powerful

Second English commentator
… but he blows hot and cold

First English commentator
Yes he’s like that. But that’s the same with French players

Second English commentator
Yes, they all blow hot and cold

First English commentator
That’s the French temperament isn’t it?

Regular readers will recall equally enlightened discussions initiated by another commentator, John Inverdale, at last year’s Wimbledon

The BBC was forced to apologize for remarks made by John Inverdale about Marion Bartoli, an hour before the match which won her the Wimbledon Ladies singles competition:

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 apologize.”

Learning from experience

Mr Inverdale has learned not to focus on the pulchritude of the players. This year he has found a replacement interest. He has noticed that players are of different sizes. This permits much discussion about how tiny some of the ladies are, and who might have been the tiniest of all time. Many he didn’t quite take on board the messages from his remedial training on avoiding such topics.


BBC SPOTY: Pretentious, sentimental, compulsive viewing

December 16, 2013

The BBC is extremely proud of its Sports Personality of the Year programme [SPOTY]. It combines much that is admirable and more than a little that is embarrassing and self indulgent

You know when a program has achieved cult status when the BBC gives it a cozy acronym or an abbreviated pet name. ‘Strictly’ [Come Dancing] and MOTD [Match of the day] are examples. SPOTY is another.

SPOTY bigged up

Each autumn, SPOTY is tirelessly and shamelessly bigged up by the BBC for several months. It has grown lengthier and more pretentious, decade by decade, for sixty years. It is tempting to have a rant about wasted money of license payers who are also hard working tax payers.By way of contrast MOTD at least remains cozy and relatively low budget and rather unchanged despite the intrusion of new technology, and countless replays of controversial refereeing decisions.

No vote fixing this year

So, SPOTY for 2013 came and went [December 15th, 2013]. One theme this year was avoiding any scandal of vote fixing. The concern was palpable and great effort went into the changes. This partly because of the rise of the mighty on-line betting industry, partly because the BBC is nearly paranoid about SOTY [scandal of the year]. Evidence abounded of potential SOTY bloopers. For example, the extra care to acknowledge disabled sporting figures, since the time they forgot to make suitable arrangements for athletes in wheelchairs, a few years ago.

Don’t forget the gals

Two women were added to the ten finalists after a twitch in the direction of a SOTY story earlier in the year. In a nice touch, John Inverdale, an appropriately cozy and lovey commentator, was banished from the show after inappropriate remarks he made last July about Wimbledon ladies winner Marion Bartoli. And all was made fine by having Marion announce one of the prizes, and having Marina Navratilova hand over the big one to Andy Murray, who, you may remember, won the gentleman’s singles at that same tennis tournament.

And the winner is …Andy Murray

The bookies had made Andy Murray overwhelming favourite. This could have also been the stuff of SOTY because Andy wasn’t present. In the build up to the SPOTY, there was some quite anxious discussion about whether Andy should be banned from receiving any award, because he had chosen to remain in Miami training and recovering from surgery.

PAOTY

Which brings me to PAOTY, the newly installed patronizing award of the year. The winning award was to a nice couple of ‘unsung heroes’ from Wilmslow, who had done much needed work to promote basketball in that neck of the woods. The interview seemed to have had the virtue of being completely unprompted and unrehearsed. A true contender for PAOTY.

Why didn’t I switch off?

OK. So the programme was pretentious, sentimental, and bling-heavy. Why didn’t I switch off? Why was the trusty remote not put to use? I don’t think it was only because of the promise of material for LWD. Truth is, SPOTY, despite all its other features, makes compelling watching. Like a cozy horror movie.


What Inverdale’s dad told him when he was little

July 7, 2013


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.