Comments made by the freelance BBC presenter Colin Murray about Olympic gold medallist Jessica Ennis-Hill’s “bottom” have been cited by the Culture Secretary Maria Miller as further evidence that the broadcaster needs to do more to confront sexism.
The Northern Irishman, who started his BBC career at Radio 1, upset some athletics fans during the warm-up for the Anniversary Games on Friday evening when he suggested to the crowd of 65,000 that a perfect athlete would combine “the stamina of Mo [Farah], the speed of [Usain] Bolt, the leap of [Greg] Rutherford and the bottom of Jess Ennis”. What he said was not broadcast.
The Ennis-Hill comment comes after sexist observations made by the BBC presenter John Inverdale about Wimbledon tennis champion Marion Bartoli prompted Ms Miller to write to the BBC Director General Tony Hall to demand action. Lord Hall wrote back to defend the BBC.
Sources close to Ms Miller said she did not consider the matter closed and was urgently seeking further information from the BBC about action on more positive representation of women in sport.
“Tony Hall claimed the Inverdale incident was a one-off and had been dealt with but we have seen other occurrences including this one at the Anniversary Games, which clearly underlines the need for positive action on this issue,” said one source.
A spokesman for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport said: “Maria Miller has been clear she wants to see more media coverage of top women’s sport, more women on sports boards and more women participating at the grassroots. Recent sexist comments from high-profile commentators focusing on sportswomen’s appearances rather than their sporting prowess are unacceptable and show that there is still much work to be done.”
Murray, who has been surprised at some of the negative reaction to his comment, tried to play down the matter on Twitter. “Hey guys, I said she was the ‘greatest all round athlete in the world’.” He received many messages of support online from those who thought the criticism was unjustified.
The Ennis-Hill episode also follows a row over Murray’s BBC Radio 5 Live show Fighting Talk, in which he asked a guest how he might “turn around” Clare Balding, the gay broadcaster.
The BBC unreservedly apologised for the comments made then and removed the clip from iPlayer. Murray left BBC Radio 5 Live this month for a new job on TalkSport. He continues to do work for the BBC Sport on American football and darts.
A BBC spokeswoman said: “Colin Murray is a freelance broadcaster and was not working for the BBC at the Anniversary Games. Tony Hall's response to Maria Miller made it very clear that the BBC is a huge supporter of women’s sport and does not condone sexism.”