Only twice in recent memory has Dunblane, a small community in central Scotland, drawn international attention, and, curiously, one of its natives — tennis star Andy Murray — has been part of both the major news stories involving his hometown.
In May 1996, a man carrying four guns murdered 16 children and one teacher in Dunblane Primary School before committing suicide. Murray was one of the pupils who survived the massacre, one of the worst cases of mass murder in British history.
The ensuing gun control debate led to Britain, the next year, adopting laws that effectively made private ownership of guns illegal in the United Kingdom. That’s in sharp contrast to the fate of gun control legislation in this country, where massacres have been more frequent and resulted in far more deaths.
On Sunday, at Wimbledon, Murray became the first Britisher to win the men’s tennis championship since 1936. This time the people of Dunblane, so proud of their native son, were celebrating instead of mourning.
Scotland is debating the pursuit of independence from the United Kingdom (there will be a referendum next year) and, not surprisingly, that has revived generations-old animosities toward the Scots among some of their resentful English neighbors. But on Sunday even the English cheerfully celebrated the fact a fellow Britisher had ended the embarrassing 77-year men’s Wimbledon championship drought.
Murray’s hard-earned victory put the United back in the United Kingdom, at least for now, and the tensions between the Scots and the English fell aside, at least for now. And the people of Dunblane have every reason to celebrate; they’ve waited a long time, too.
The women’s championship on Saturday raised a different, more personal, set of issues for sport.
When did the media decide they could be image consultants? When did it become OK to pass judgment on an athlete’s looks when she is playing in the most elite match in the sport? These are the top players in the game, who earned — through great effort and skill — to be there. An adage about covers on books comes to mind.
BBC commentator John Inverdale acknowledged he erred. He told reporters he wrote to Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli of France to apologize for saying on the air that she was “never going to be a looker.”
Inverdale’s comments on Radio 5 as Bartoli prepared for Saturday’s final against Germany’s Sabine Lisicki provoked anger. Hundreds of listeners justifiably called the BBC and complained, many of them demanding he be removed from the coverage and even fined.
Here is what 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 Sharapova, you’re never going to be (tall), 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.”
On Sunday, he started his show stating, “The point I was trying to make, in a rather ham-fisted kind of way, was that in a world where the public perception of tennis players is that they’re all 6-foot-tall Amazonian athletes, Marion — who is the Wimbledon champion — bucks that trend.”
The BBC responded: “We accept that this remark was insensitive and for that we apologize.”
Other media outlets, including The New York Times, in their coverage of her hard-fought victory, also referred to Bartoli as “stocky” for her 5-foot 7-inch frame.
In an age where parents constantly are worrying about pre-teenage and teenage girls slipping down that greasy slope of eating disorders and body image issues, ridiculous characterizations about appearance are irrelevant compared to the training, strength and perseverance these players put themselves through to be champions.
But the greatest credit goes to Bartoli herself. Asked about Inverdale’s comments, Bartoli said: “It doesn’t matter, honestly. I am not blond, yes. That is a fact. Have I dreamt about having a model contract? No. I’m sorry.”
“But have I dreamed about winning Wimbledon? Absolutely, yes,” she added, smiling like the champion that she is.
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