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Culture Secretary writes to BBC bosses over 'derogatory' coverage of women's sport

John Inverdale was heavily criticised for comments he made about the appearance of Wimbledon winner Marion Bartoli. Photo: PA

Culture Secretary Maria Miller has raised concerns with BBC chiefs over John Inverdale's comments that Wimbledon winner Marion Bartoli was "never going to be a looker".

In a robust letter to director general Lord Hall, the Conservative attacked allegedly sexist sports coverage and called on the corporation to keep her informed about the "further action that is likely to be taken" after more than 600 people complained about the sports presenter.

Aides said Mrs Miller met broadcasters a number of times over the last year to encourage them to improve coverage of women's sports.

She was moved to write the letter, published in the Daily Mail, over the "derogatory" way Bartoli was treated during Wimbledon, one of the rare sporting events where women have a high media profile.

France's Marion Bartoli celebrates with her trophy after winning the Wimbledon Women's Singles' Final. Credit: PA

Mrs Miller wrote: "It is ... a matter of some concern to me that any comment on the looks and stature of a female athlete could be made in the context of one of the highlights of the UK's, and indeed the world's, sporting calendar.

"I am sure you will agree with me that it is vital that young women and girls in this country feel motivated both to take part in and to watch coverage of sport, and to know that they are included in the enjoyment of sport, and catered for by the media just as much as the male audience."

"I would be grateful for an update on any further action that is likely to be taken following [the] complaints, and whether there may be positive steps that the BBC could take in the future to ensure that the perception of and commentary on female athletes, and women’s sport generally, are as positive and inclusive as possible," she added.

The Culture Secretary is also boycotting the Open over host Muirfield's refusal to admit female members and believes the problems with the two highlights of the sporting calendar are sending out the wrong message.

Culture Secretary Maria Miller has attacked BBC sports coverage and criticised a male-only golf club. Credit: PA

A government source said: "There are now one million more women playing sport as part of the Olympic legacy, which is fantastic.

"But despite this there are still national sporting events being held at clubs that refuse to allow women and BBC journalists referring to women in a sexist and derogatory fashion at a highlight of the British sporting calendar - the culture secretary is clear that this is a problem which can't be ignored."

Inverdale caused outrage with his comments about the Wimbledon winner on Radio 5 live shortly after she defeated Germany's Sabine Lisicki on Centre Court, telling listeners: "Do you think Bartoli's dad told her when she was little, 'You're never going to be a looker, you'll never be a Sharapova, so you have to be scrappy and fight'?"

Inverdale attempted to clarify the "ham-fisted" comment on the following day and said he had written to Bartoli to apologise for using a "clumsy phrase".

He said: "The point I was trying to make in a rather ham-fisted kind of way is that the public perception of tennis players is that they're all 6 feet-tall Amazonian athletes.

"Marion, who is the Wimbledon champion, bucks that trend, and she is a fantastic example to all young people that it's attitude, and will and determination together obviously with talent that in the end gets you to the top.

"I've apologised to Marion by letter if any offence was caused and I do hope that we can leave the matter there."