The BBC’s relationship with sexism, and particularly in sports such as tennis, took another unsavoury turn on Tuesday as John Humphrys of the Today Programme on BBC Radio 4 appeared to question Johanna Konta’s nationality and her right to declare herself as British.
The Telegraph reports that: “Listeners to BBC’s Today Programme on Radio 4 were incensed to hear him question Ms Konta’s British citizenship after she made it to the semi-finals of Wimbledon.”
In 2013, John Inverdale, also of the BBC, was caught with his foot even more aggressively in his mouth after suggesting that Marion Bartoli’s success on the court was down to the fact that she had accepted that she “was never going to be a looker”.
This comment, most people accepted, would not have been given consideration, or even fathomed, of a male tennis player, highlighting an apparent inherent sexism within the sport or perhaps the BBC, or both.
This month, Andy Murray corrected an American journalist who said that Sam Querrey was the first American player to reach the semi-final of a Grand Slam for quite some time, despite the fact that the Williams sisters have dominated the sport for the best part of 20 years.
Murray corrected the journalist, noting that Querrey was the first ‘male player’ to reach a semi-final in some time to which the journalist laughed nervously before correcting himself with a ‘for sure’.
John McEnroe found himself in similarly hot water of alleged sexism prior to Wimbledon with comments he made about how he thought Serena Williams would fare in the men’s game.
The suggestion here seems to be that Konta was put under unnecessary and inappropriate pressure by Humphrys over her nationality by virtue of her gender as well.
Would Greg Rusedski, for example, have been put under that kind of pressure if he were still playing today?
The question Humphrys asked was as follows: “We talk about you as being British but you were born in Hungary, Australian citizenship, and I seem to remember that the Australian High Commissioner when you won the quarter-final said ‘Great to see an Aussie win’ and we were saying ‘Great to see a Brit win’ – so what are you?”
To which Konta replied with: “I was actually born in Australia to Hungarian parents but I’ve lived here for half my life now almost and I’m a British citizen and I’m incredibly proud to represent Great Britain…I’ve represented Britain in the Olympics so I’m definitely a British athlete.”
Konta was born in Australia to Hungarian parents and moved to Britain when she was 14. She holds British citizenship, switched allegiance from Australia to Britain as soon as her citizenship was granted, and has represented Great Britain in every capacity since then, including the Olympics.
It is safe to say, people on Twitter were not impressed with the question aimed at Konta, and they vented their frustrations on the social media platform.
In the modern game, where the disparity in prize money is becoming less significant, perhaps it is not surprising that a sport like tennis, where the women’s game is almost as popular as the men’s, a notable exception from most other mainstream sports, is under the most scrutiny and is the most susceptible to issues surrounding gender.
Either way, Konta handled the questions very well and Humphrys looks likely to release a statement this afternoon declaring no racist or sexist intent behind his questioning.