BBC stands by John Inverdale, saying Olympic tennis gaffe was 'simple error'

Presenter to continue with duties despite incidents including clash with Sir Steve Redgrave – and will be paired up next with heavyweight boxer

The BBC is standing by John Inverdale despite his string of awkward moments at the Olympics, explaining a comment he made to Andy Murray that was branded as sexist as “a simple error”.

Inverdale’s latest on-air blunder saw Murray put him in his place after the BBC presenter said that the Scot was the first person ever to win two Olympic tennis gold medals.

“That’s an extraordinary feat,” said Inverdale. “I think Venus and Serena [Williams] have won about four each,” corrected Murray.

The Scot, who earlier this year he had become a feminist after witnessing first-hand the “criticism and prejudice” his former coach Amelie Mauresmo has endured, was widely applauded on social media for attacking Inverdale’s apparent sexism.

Fans of the champion’s comments included Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon, who tweeted:

Yet another reason to love Andy Murray...

— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) August 15, 2016

A spokeswoman for BBC Sport said there would be no change to Inverdale’s Olympic duties following the gaffe, adding: “It was a simple error.”

It was the latest in a string of awkward moments that have befallen Inverdale so far at the Rio Olympics, including getting off-side with five-time Olympic medallist Sir Steve Redgrave, with whom he co-presented coverage of the rowing.

While Inverdale may have got off lightly with a light umbrella soaking from the sizeable Redgrave (1.95m and 103kg), he will have to be on his best behaviour fronting the BBC’s coverage of the boxing.

He will find himself paired up with Anthony Joshua, the IBF heavyweight and Olympic champion, who rises 1.98m and weighs in at a fighting fit 106kg.

The tension between Inverdale and Redgrave built over several days, starting when the rower walked off the set live on-air on Thursday after pulling a face at Inverdale.

Inverdale and Redgrave discuss a point at the Lagoa Stadium on the eighth day of the Olympic Games.
Inverdale and Redgrave discuss a point at the Lagoa Stadium on the eighth day of the Olympic Games. Photograph: Mike Egerton/PA

The spat continued the following day when Redgrave appeared to deliberately shake a wet umbrella over Inverdale.

The on-air relationship hit a low on the weekend with Redgrave interrupting Inverdale interviewing the gold medal winner in the single sculls, New Zealand’s Mahé Drysdale.

Redgrave had stopped Drysdale briefly to congratulate him as he got off his boat, when Inverdale moved in to interview the rower.

The move angered Redgrave, who saw it as a breach of protocol and insisted that New Zealand television should interview Drysdale first.

The series of incidents prompted the BBC to put out a statement denying a relationship conflict between the pair.

“Whilst Steve was unable to stay with us throughout Thursday’s daytime programme he was back on air the same evening,” said a spokeswoman for BBC Sport. “He returned on Friday alongside John Inverdale and any suggestion that there is an issue between Steve and John is simply untrue.”

Inverdale has a long history of sparking controversy.

In 2013, following Marion Bartoli’s victory at Wimbledon, the BBC apologised after receiving more than 700 complaints after Inverdale told 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.”

The following year the BBC replaced Inverdale with Clare Balding as presenter of Radio 5 Live’s Wimbledon coverage.

Then in 2015, Inverdale was dropped as the anchor of its nightly BBC2 Wimbledon coverage, again with Balding taking over, although he is still part of the corporation’s commenting team.

This year Inverdale raised hackles on social media after he likened Australian tennis star Nick Kyrgios to a “character from the Jungle Book”.

It is not entirely clear what Inverdale meant by the comment about Kyrgios – the son of a Greek father and a Malaysian mother, who was born in Canberra.

“I think the word is lumber. Nick Kyrgious lumbers off like a character from the Jungle Book,” said Inverdale as the player, beaten in straight sets by Murray, made his exit from Centre Court.

Inverdale apologised after using the phrase “rose-cunted spectacles” in Radio 5 Live’s coverage of last year’s Cheltenham Festival, blaming a “slip of the tongue”.


Mark Sweney

The GuardianTramp

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