“She’s got the shortest skirt on campus,” was the off-mic, off-the-cuff remark that has landed golf commentator Peter Alliss in the bunker again this week.
The BBC veteran was overheard during the Masters in Augusta, referring to Angela Akins, fiancée of champion Sergio Garcia. Odd, really, as she was wearing a casual athleisure style outfit, teaming grey sweats with a cute flippy mini skirt. Entirely appropriate for the temperature and the occasion, I’d say, but clearly the sight of bare legs was enough to veer 86-year-old Alliss’s attention off course.
Well, we’ve all heard worse from octogenarians. However, last week, Alliss felt the need, in a Newsweek interview, to impart his wisdom regarding female weaknesses. “Women will never be able to do the things that men can,” he said, asking if a woman would ever fight to be boxing heavyweight world champion. Erm … what?
Alliss is quite a star player in the field of good old-fashioned sexist remarks. At the 2015 Open, he speculated during US golfer Zach Johnson’s winning putt that his wife was probably thinking about a new kitchen. The same year, he apologised to Irish golfer Paul Dunne after remarking, while his mother was hugging him, “That must be mum. Perhaps he likes older women, I don’t know but I hope he’s got the right one.” Ridiculous, random, and completely forgetting that he’s paid to comment on golf, not any woman who dares step into view.
The BBC is playing down Alliss’s skirt quip, with a spokesman saying it was “a light-hearted remark which he now knows was inappropriate”. And that would be fair enough if he was just your old granddad chuntering on again, but he’s not – he’s a professional sports commentator employed by the publicly funded BBC.
In that same Newsweek interview, Alliss suggested he was thinking of retirement, to “go before I’m pushed”, which will be when he reaches “the point where I see something and I can’t respond, I’m interviewed and have no words to say”.
Hmm. Alliss is still able to respond to what he sees, and still has plenty of words when he’s interviewed, but that’s precisely the problem. His musings and responses are from a bygone era when women lived in the kitchen and ventured out only to make a jolly decent spread.
Alliss has worked for the BBC for 56 years. As the “voice of golf”, he is famed for painting pictures with words. A rare talent, but there must be younger commentators able to pick up the baton, and the paintbrush. Maybe even a woman? It’s time to find a new voice.