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What It Means to Be John Inverdale

Has the sports presenter now attained a momentous critical mass, a hyperdense singularity of bloopers from which no career, not even his, can escape?
August 16, 2016, 11:05pm
Screengrab, BBC

John Inverdale is glued to his spot, whiffing his own scent, the mushroom cloud of gaffe he is constantly emitting. His face is red and bloated from last night's caipirinhas, thrown back while chatting lower league football to selfie-hungry English tourists in a hotel bar. He wonders, has he finally done it? After being demoted from the athletics, from Wimbledon, from just about everything because of a chain reaction of blunders, clangers and faux pas, has he now attained a momentous critical mass, a hyperdense singularity of bloopers from which no career, not even his, can escape?


His slip this week - you will have seen it - when he was pointedly corrected by Andy Murray after he said "you're the first person to win two gold medals", that, in fact, Venus and Serena Wiliams have won four gold medals between them, has begun to rival that of the more conventional Olympic storylines of heroism or skullduggery. It is a gaffe worthy of the Gillian Duffy incident, even a Gerald Ratner, certainly one of umpteen Prince Philips. No gaffe is an island; medal-gate has been placed in a zip file of public perception along with previous Inverdale hits like looker-gate and cunt-gate.

Inverdale has blundered into a gaffe of solipsistic perfection. A heat of the moment malfunction that encapsulates what we all assume to be his character, and indeed the character of a generation of tanned, dad-bodded TV sports anchors: opinionated, chauvinistic, jumped-up stattos high on self-importance and easy access to their heroes, brittle conduits gushing forth exposition about the heptathlon scoring system and the meaning of Rugby 7s to "your average Fijian". A man who can remember the last time country X won 5 equestrian golds in one day, who knows how to elicit tears from a medallist's proud parent by dropping some variation of "you must have driven her down to the pool at the crack of dawn so many times". A man who likes a drink, mates with Beefy, thinks we're better off out of Europe even though he can't bloody say so because of BBC impartiality rules. A man who has, at a late hour, brought their slurring voice down to pitch of conspiratorial brass tacks and probably proffered, "Listen. I think it's great to see the girls out there doing their best but let's face it even the 300th ranked man could beat the best girl any day of the week." An Inverdale.


The life of an Inverdale is one on the cusps: unloved by the public, too sports-casual to fit in with the broad One Showish Olympic coverage of the BBC. Claire Balding's throws to him on location are friendly enough in a business-like way, but you get a firm sense she probably unfollowed his Instagram a good while back. As the immaculate head girl of the BBC, whose Princess Diana hair gives middle England the most profound Proustian rush, she has long been entrusted as the vanguard of the anti-Invers, wrestling sport coverage away from pub blokes. Cosmopolitan, formidable but likeable, directing the emphasis to the human stories beyond the stats or blokeish appreciation of technique. Helen Skelton lies somewhere behind, an old hand at making the dullest experts shine from her Blue Peter days, jockeying the amassed experts with glossy charm, making swimming three times up and down a big pool sound as fun as going to Thorpe Park on pingers.

But John Inverdale stands alone, his island of obscure sport having long broken away from the mainland. Surely now either a Qatari cable channel or a phone-in show on TalkSport beckons, as does an impossibly poignant vlog about his new life, his opinions on England's Six Nations squad, and who the right person is to restore the UK to its former glory. That's the price of the perfect gaffe.


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