Columnists

Anne Hailes: Calling fault on sexism

Joachim Gerard, pictured right, shakes hands with Gordon Reid after winning the Gentlemen's Wheelchair Singles Final at Wimbledon last Sunday. The match was played on court 3 and not the iconic Centre Court. Picture by Steven Paston/PA Wire

BORIS Becker thrives on being controversial but I think recent criticism has been unjustified.

He dared to call a tennis player's fiancée "pretty" when commentating on the Wimbledon match between Hungarian Márton Fucsovics and Novak Djokovic.

Fucsovics's girlfriend Anett Böszörményi was watching the match, which Djokovic, the eventual champion, won in straight sets.

When a shot of Böszörményi was flashed on the screen BBC presenter John Inverdale quipped: "If you're a tennis player it's always good to have a partner called Anett." Boom boom - a lame joke, but it's typical of him to make lame jokes.

Quick as a flash, Becker came back: "They do say they have the most beautiful women in Hungary. I wouldn't know that but she's certainly very pretty."

Now he has been accused of 'crossing the line'.

Chief executive of Women in Sport, Stephanie Hillborne, said the charity "has worked for decades to change sporting culture, including to end the objectification of women".

"When two men are comfortable talking about women in this way, never mind on live TV, it shows there is still more to do," she said.

I wonder did she mind how one newspaper described Matteo Berrettini - the Italian who was Djokovic's opponent in the final - as "eye candy"?

Tennis Shoe On The Other Foot

Just to give a shout out for women, here's a blond man joke.

A blond man spots a letter on his doormat. It says on the envelope 'do not bend'. He spends the next two hours trying to figure out how to pick it up...

After the Boris débâcle, social media comments came in hot and heavy, variously calling the BBC disgraceful and Becker sexist.

I happened to be watching that match. I saw Anett Böszörményi and heard the comments. It didn't register with me that these were objectionable, but then I lived through the 'burning of the bra' days of women's liberation - if a man even dared look at you sideways in those days there would be a protest march.

Márton Fucsovics with fiancée Anett Böszörményi; Boris Becker got into trouble for saying she was 'pretty'

But the majority of women didn't go along with the extremists. There was usually some woman older and wiser to turn to for support, especially in business, and the matter was addressed.

However, women's libbers did do us a favour in publicising how men treated women as goods and chattels.

We began to stand up for ourselves, refusing to be 'owned' by our men. For some it worked but for many others it didn't, and they suffered dreadfully - to this day men dominate women, just look at the cases of sexual and domestic abuse, the trolling of women on Twitter, the threats from unknown individuals. These are serious concerns yet to be dealt with.

But in my opinion reacting to Becker in this way is petty and it is not worth boycotting the BBC because of his remark, which I am sure he meant as a compliment. It demeans all the more serious cases.

But - and it's a big but - when I talked to a young psychologist he had a much more pragmatic view and I learned a lot.

He said that in his opinion and with his experience we tread a very fine line. Comments like Becker's are disrespectful, and what right did he have to open a discussion on her looks, however complimentary he thought he was being?

The problem is he didn't think - and there's the rub. Both men and women, and I include myself, say things that offend and we don't even realise it.

We have to begin to consider our opinions and, as is said, put our minds in gear before we open our mouths.

It comes down to self-discipline, being in charge of our thinking and speech.

Of course, there are so many who just don't care about what they say, they yell 'free speech' when they're accused of being crass and offensive - just consider on-going sectarianism and the current hate speech against black players on the England team and how this has revealed a cauldron of racism against anyone these people consider to be 'non-white'.

BBC Reaction

The BBC has since released a statement defending the 53-year-old pundit: "Boris Becker made a light-hearted comment that was not intended to cause offence."

Pass-remarkable Becker was also in hot water when he criticised Naomi Osaka for refusing to submit herself to being grilled by the media when coming straight off court.

He's reported as saying: "Is that really pressure? Isn't it pressure when you don't have food on the table? When you've got to feed your family and you don't have a job? When you have a life-changing injury? Isn't that more pressure?

"You're 23, you're healthy, you're wealthy, your family is good. Where's the f*****g pressure?" Charming.

This Is For You, Boris B

A blond man shouts frantically into the phone. "My wife is pregnant and her contractions are only two minutes apart."

"Is this her first child?" asks the doctor. "No," he shouts, "this is her husband."

One other comment comes to me from a woman who nursed spinal patients.

"The coverage of wheelchair tennis was appalling. These men and women who have been to hell and back have to play their finals on an outdoor court, no 'stars' to steal the limelight, no big celebration on court, no royalty to present the prizes, although the Duchess of Cambridge did put in an appearance at the men's wheelchair singles final.

"Thankfully the sparse audience was made up of people who care and who appreciate what these players have overcome and the life they lead, often in pain."

I agree wholeheartedly. Why can't decent courts be built for wheelchair users and some glory given to them? Centre Court is there for the non-disabled finalists - they have all the kudos so it's unfair and the whole thing reeks of inequality.

And for the wheelchair finalists, runner-up Gordon Reid and winner Joachim Gérard, to have their tiny trophies presented by two members of tournament management was such an insult. I suggest we write to Clare Balding.

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