Belgian former pro cyclist-turned-reporter Sven Spoormakers set off a sexism storm on social media with his comments on a female reporter covering an event in Argentina.
In a now-deleted tweet, Spoormakers shared a picture of ESPN reporter Belen Mendiguren wearing a low-cut top and interviewing a competitor at the Vuelta a San Juan, with the Belgian commenting on Mendiguren’s appearance by writing: "Is it cold in Argentina?"
The post drew a frigid response from social media users, who called out Spoormakers with accusations of sexism – not least from Australian sports journalist Sophie Smith.
Smith shared the tweet with her almost 20,000 followers, fuming: “Seriously? Please tell me this is lost in translation and you did not just publicly objectify a young female reporter.
“Speaking from experience, let me say she does the exact same job as you but has to work and withstand twice as much still because of bullshit like this.”
Spoormakers, who competed between 1998 and 2000, initially showed no sign of backpedaling over the snap, defiantly responding: “Objectify, really? Come on. Don't draw the feminist card on this one. She knows exactly what she's wearing - or not wearing - and why.
“If I would interview a female athlete with my balls out, you'd be joking about it too. Or calling it a disgrace.”
Not wanting to put the brakes on the row, Smith shot back with a series of messages, writing: “So it’s her fault because you can’t stop looking at her boobs? What’s she meant to do, wear a potato sack so you don’t get excited?
“If I take a picture of you at work, post it and comment on how small your dick looks in a pair of shorts would you be alright with that?”
Smith added: “The only thing more insulting than belittling female reporters, who are already a minority in pro sports, with sexist remarks is trying to further undermine or dismiss them for being brave enough to call it out. Consider if you’d say it about your daughter or mother, then speak.”
Mendiguren herself then issued her disgust at Spoormakers, tweeting: "Thank you Sophie, it’s gonna take time, but I really hope men will finally understand that this kind of comments are a complex gender issue.
"We live with this kind of gender violence since we are born. I invite everyone to ask your closest female friends about it as a first step."
That appeared to prompt Spoormakers to climb down, as he tweeted an apology to Mendiguren, writing: “What was meant to be a funny remark turned out to be offensive to a lot of people. That was bad judgement. Sorry.”
He then extended an invitation to the young reporter, saying that “if you’re ever in Belgium, you’re welcome to discover I’m not the brontosaurus you think I am.”
As things stand, it seems unlikely she will take him up on that offer...