THE BBC has replaced John Inverdale as host of the Wimbledon coverage of Radio 5 Live, after last year’s controversial on-air gaffe when he branded a woman competitor “not much of a looker”.
The presenter caused a storm when listeners heard him say the disparaging remarks about Marion Bartoli - who went on to be women’s champion. BBC favourite Clare Balding will step into his shoes.
Miss Balding had previously been the station’s Wimbledon host but the in-demand presenter, who won a Bafta for her expert coverage of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, was unable to front the coverage last year due to other commitments.
Mr Inverdale will continue to work on the BBC’s tournament coverage with highlights on TV.
A spokeswoman for the station said: “We have a wide team of talent that work across TV and radio at Wimbledon and John is very much a part of this again this year, and will present the daily highlights programme on BBC2, Today At Wimbledon.
“Clare Balding reprises her presenting role on Radio 5 Live, which she has done before. Due to other commitments Clare was not part of the Wimbledon team last year.”
Mr Inverdale told in an interview earlier this week how a bout of hay fever and efforts to fill airtime had been behind his comment last year.
The incident blew up to such an extent that the then culture secretary Maria Miller wrote to BBC director-general Tony Hall about the remark.
The 56-year-old told Radio Times magazine: “I was feeling so ill that day, I had terrible hay fever and all I could think of was that I wanted to go home to bed.
“I had Andy Murray in the final the next day, I knew I had to be on form.
“Your mind is going all over the place, we’re on air from 12 noon till 7pm with not a single word written and you’ve got to fill the time.”
The BBC received around 700 complaints after Inverdale questioned whether Bartoli’s father had told her, when she was younger, that she was never going to be a “looker... a Sharapova... you’re never going to be 5ft 11in, you’re never going to be somebody with long legs, so you have to compensate for that”.
The presenter later attempted to clarify the “ham-fisted” comment and said that he had written to Bartoli to apologise for using a “clumsy phrase”.
The sports broadcaster said that he “was horrified” for Bartoli that, “at her moment of triumph”, there was “some idiot distraction”.
He said of apologising to the tennis player at the Wimbledon champions’ dinner: “I went up to say I was sorry and her exact words to me were, ‘Don’t worry about that, what do you think of my heels?’ And I said, ‘They look great.’ Which they did.”
Mr Inverdale will join Bartoli on the commentating team on ITV for the French Open, which begins on Sunday.
She won a Bafta for her coverage of the Olympics and has repeatedly been awarded sports presenter of year awards.
And now Clare Balding will add another live sporting event to her repertoire - fronting the BBC’s coverage of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games this July. The presenter will host the opening and closing ceremonies live from Celtic Park and Hampden, along with Gary Linekar and Hazel Irvine.
She will lead the daily coverage on BBC One, and will be joined by a team of expert commentators including former Olympic champions Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson, Michael Johnson, Rebecca Adlington, Denise Lewis, Beth Tweddle, Sir Chris Hoy, Paula Radcliffe and Jonathan Davies.
The BBC’s Head of Commonwealth Games, Bruce Malcolm said: “BBC Sport will provide the kind of coverage they did so brilliantly during the Olympics but we also want to join in the year-long celebrations both here in Glasgow and throughout the rest of Scotland by bringing our audiences a string of live events, concerts and Commonwealth-themed programmes.”