LARRY RYAN: Feminist outrage misses target

Contrasting fortunes for the new Wimbledon champions. Andy Murray breezed through his final eliminator to qualify for a tilt at the ultimate prize — a knighthood.

But Marion Bartoli (pictured), it turns out, wasn’t even in the running to claim the most coveted reward of them all — a night with BBC’s John Inverdale.

“Never going to be a Sharapova,” was the Inverdale verdict, during Bartoli’s win over Sabine Lisicki. You will get no analysis of oil paintings here, but if you can’t place Invers (he was obliged to acquire the nickname when he became mixed up in rugby), think John Bishop with the smugness cranked up — yes, further — and the neck removed, literally if not figuratively.

In fairness to Invers, he was anxious to soften his assessment by attempting to break it via somebody close to the French disappointment. “Do you think Bartoli’s dad told her when she was little, ‘You’re never going to be a looker’?”

Ordinarily, you might reflect, with perhaps a thought for your own daughter, and conclude: “No, can’t see the man choosing that particular motivational tack.” But we are dealing with tennis fathers here, with their proud tradition of systematic abuse, control freakery, bomb threats and occasional poisoning. So you can never rule anything out entirely.

But still, Invers was swiftly served with volleys of revulsion.

The peddlers of feminist outrage — most of whom wouldn’t, usually, spare sport a column inch — were able to detect misogyny as well as crassness in his guff and were equally certain this man wasn’t working alone.

As ever, at times like this, Sepp Blatter’s advocacy of tighter shorts for women footballers — nearly a decade old now — was exhumed as evidence of all sport’s inherent lunatic sexism.

Unfortunate recent accidents — like the one Maria Sharapova suffered when most of her clothing fell off at a time and place convenient for the people in charge of producing a cover for Esquire magazine — only confirmed the hardship women must suffer for their crafts.

And it was widely concluded that no sporting gentleman would ever be subjected to the indignity of having his appearance assessed, even if several correspondents needed to note how ugly Wayne Rooney was to force that match point.

In fact, negative references to the appearance of sportsmen are so commonplace that Sky Sports may have to set up some kind of direct debit apology to Phil Thompson and his nose.

As Sky’s Georgie Bingham pointed out this week on Twitter: “If I said a footballer wasn’t going to sell many shirts based on his looks, no one would blink.”

While the clamour grows to have Invers sacked, it might be noted that Clare Balding’s star has soared since she badgered Grand National-winning jockey Liam Treadwell into showing the world his crooked teeth.

The internet is stuffed with lists of the ugliest and the weirdest, some from the pages of mainstream newspapers.

Conveniently, uglyfootballers.com has gone to the trouble of selecting ‘an all-time ugly XI’.

It will come as no surprise to two old favourites in this arena; Iain Dowie and Peter Beardsley, who are strong men if they retain an ounce of self-esteem, to find they form a traditional little and large front two although, and I am loath to get involved in judgments on this kind, the selection of Graeme Souness in midfield seems controversial and is news I wouldn’t want to deliver to the man himself.

In any case, whenever a footballer is deemed to own ‘the face of a centre-half’, it is assumed he is ‘big enough and ugly enough’ to take it on his weak chin, perhaps an unwise assumption given the fragile mental health of some players, as highlighted in Football’s Suicide Secret, broadcast on BBC this week.

So surely it does nothing for women’s sport, and tough competitors like Bartoli — who smashed Invers’ nonsense out of the court with class and good humour — to choreograph such a protracted song and dance over a loose unforced error.

Why would she give one single eff what Invers thought of her? This was nothing like the pernicious sexism that put paid to the Sky careers of Andy Gray and Richard Keys, whose do-me-a-favour-love abhorrence of the very idea of a woman in football could certainly have deterred many from a career in the game.

But their attitudes were roundly dismissed as belonging to a time before football even began in 1992.

The handy consensus in certain quarters that all of sport remains a misogynistic cesspit rather overlooks Katie Taylor’s status as one of the most popular sportspeople in this country.

It forgets Sonia’s standing as maybe the most loved of all our stars; ignores the pride in Fionnuala Britton’s recent achievements. Or in Laura Robson, Jessica Ennis, Nicola Adams and the rest across the water.

Certainly, it’s unfair that women in lots of sports cannot easily enjoy the profile and wealth enjoyed by top men. But holding up one of the few sports where both can be achieved as a totem of endemic sexism seems counter-productive.

Clare Balding believed that last year’s Olympics — with the many heroines it created — would prove a turning point for women’s sport, at least in the UK.

“We have a moment in time to solve the problem. We’ve got to hold on to the positive energies because we’ve got to change this.”

Perhaps the peddlers of outrage might be more constructively served tapping into that positivity rather than taking any notice of the likes of Invers.

I’m sure that’s what Iain Dowie’s always done.

Three sad stories on how the glory days just pass you by

As football continues to agitate for attention in the margins, the week brought three sad reminders of the transience of glory. Arranged on any kind of league table, Gazza’s grim situation is top. The most effervescent talent British football produced in an age slumped on a London street, seemingly waiting for the final chapter. The only constant throughout the story; people wanting a piece of him.

Then there was Davy Langan, whose commitment inspired and whose surges once thrilled, planning to sell his 26 Ireland caps for a few bob. It shouldn’t be any more troubling than the debt problems piled up in front of so many. But in a sport bursting with money, where Davy’s union, even in comparatively modest times, once bought a painting for £2m, you wonder how it could come to this. And it may feel like small trouble in comparison, but there was something tragic about the widening rift between Pep and Barca. Between them, they created something as beautiful, yet robust, as anything we have seen in football.That monument may have crumbled a little since, but we could hardly have expected the relationship to unravel so soon. But as The Boss will tell us this week; glory days, well they’ll pass you by.

HEROES & VILLAINS

STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN

Paul Murphy: It could have been any of that stonewall defence — maybe Kieran Joyce fared even better — but what a return to harness after injury. A shame his duel with Corbett was abridged.

Lee Chin: A medal will provide deserved tangible reward for a summer of headlines and exertions.

Simon Kuper: Called Iraq as a coming force in Soccernomics. There they were in the U20 World Cup semi-final.

Ashton Agar: Sparked off an Ashes summer with the easy nonchalance only a teenager who had no idea what he was getting into could muster.

TO HELL IN A HANDCART

The Few Apes: Every county has the few apes. Alas, Kilkenny’s contingent made themselves known rather volubly when Lar’s hammer twanged – a sour moment on a sweet night for the Cats.


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