BBC presenter under fire for doubting Konta's Britishness
UK shadow sports minister calls John Humphrys’ line of questioning insensitive
Johanna Konta: “I’m a British citizen, and I’m incredibly proud to represent Great Britain.” Photograph: PA Photo
BBC presenter John Humphrys has been criticised for questioning whether or not tennis player Johanna Konta – a Team GB Olympic athlete and UK citizen – is truly British during a Today programme interview.
Konta, who this month became the first British woman to reach a Wimbledon semi-final since 1978, pulled Humphrys up on factual inaccuracies in what appeared at times to be a slightly tense discussion on Radio 4 on Tuesday.
“We talk about you as being British, but you were born in Hungary, Australian citizenship. And I seem to remember that the Australian high commissioner, when you won the quarter-final, said ‘great to see an Aussie win.’ And we were saying: ‘great to see a Brit win.’ So, what are you?” Humphrys asked the British number one.
Laughing, she replied: “I was actually born in Australia to Hungarian parents. But I’ve lived half my life here now, almost, so I’m a British citizen,and I’m incredibly proud to represent Great Britain. I have done so officially since 2012 but, definitively, I have personally since 2005 when I moved here. I’ve also represented Great Britain at the Olympics, so I’m definitely a British athlete.”
The shadow sports minister, Rosena Allin-Khan, called Humphrys’ line of questioning insensitive. “Britain is made greater by the rich cultural mix we are blessed to have. In sport Johanna Konta is a shining example of this,” she told the Guardian.
“John Humphrys is an experienced journalist, but he has been insensitive here. We have a rich tapestry of people from diverse backgrounds, all of whom identify as and are proud to call themselves British – myself included.”
Konta, who has moved up to number four in the world rankings, was also asked by Humphrys: “You were, so I read, the 388th best junior in Australia. Now, normally people wouldn’t look at you and say ‘ah, she is a future champion.’ So what do you think was it about you that attracted people’s attention?”
Laughing again, she told him: “That’s not entirely accurate as well because, actually, I won the under-12s nationals in Australia when I was a youngster, so I was definitely one of the best in the country. But that’s the way it is with sport. There’s a lot of things that become misleading or are half-truths. But, again, I’ve had a great journey and I’m really enjoying my tennis where it is now, and I’m enjoying the work I’m doing with the team I have around me.”
Konta was reportedly ranked number 388 among Australia’s juniors when she was spotted by a coach, who recognised her talent.
Humphrys’ questioning of Konta over her national allegiance comes less than a week after the issue was last raised. Virginia Wade, the previous British woman to reach the Wimbledon semi-finals, dismissed discussion of Konta’s background as irrelevant.
The former Wimbledon champion was appearing on the talkSPORT programme hosted by Jim White, who asked his followers on Twitter: “Born in Australia to Hungarian parents, is [Konta] truly British?”
Wade said: “The facts are the facts – you can’t change where you are born, but you certainly can become the nationality you choose. Jo has lived here for a long time and she considers herself British. John McEnroe was born in Germany, but he is very American so it’s irrelevant. I think we should embrace the performances she’s given us, and wish her best for the next couple of matches.”
An article by the Mail Online columnist Jan Moir was headlined: “So who is Johanna Konta? The British tennis golden girl making Wimbledon history is known as frosty and rude but always bakes for her rivals and STILL doesn’t know the national anthem!”