UK commentators embroiled in sexism row

Two of Britain’s leading football commentators were reprimanded by their TV network and taken off the air on Monday after making sexist remarks off-microphone about two female match officials and West Ham executive Karren Brady.

Andy Gray and Richard Keys came under fire from all angles on Monday for their derogatory comments about Sian Massey’s suitability as a lineswoman for the Premier League match between Wolverhampton and Liverpool, a game they were presenting for Sky Sports on Saturday.

The pair, respected voices in football for the past 20 years, also criticised the ability of female former Premier League official Wendy Toms and a column written by Brady in the Sun newspaper that day.

Sitting in a gantry in Wolves’ Molineux Stadium before and during the Wolves-Liverpool game, Gray and Keys, thought their microphones were switched off when they questioned whether Massey knew the offside rule. Keys, who has worked for Sky since 1990, said he could “guarantee” Massey was going to make a big mistake in the match.

Keys added that the game had “gone mad” by allowing a woman to run the line and Gray, a former Scotland striker who is Sky’s leading commentator and pundit, made an abusive reference to Toms, saying she had been “hopeless”.

Toms was the first female to officiate in the Premier League as a lineswoman. She is no longer an active referee.

Keys then directed his criticism toward Brady, who in her column had written about her experiences of sexual discrimination in the football media.

“See charming Karren Brady this morning complaining about sexism? Yeah. Do me a favor, love,” Keys said.

Brady said on Monday in the Guardian it was “absolutely abhorrent that gender is the only consideration when talking about female officials”.

The comments were leaked to a British newspaper, leaving Gray and Keys open to heavy abuse from social commentators, discrimination groups and football players among others.

Sky released a statement saying the pair — who have privately apologized to their employers — have been warned and would not be fronting its Monday Night Football show from the Reebok Stadium, where Bolton is hosting Chelsea in the Premier League.

“They [the comments] are inexcusable from anyone at Sky, regardless of their role or seniority,” said Barney Francis, managing director of Sky Sports. “We have dealt with this matter by taking immediate disciplinary action … they have been clearly warned about their behavior and reminded of their responsibilities.”

Keys later telephoned Massey to apologise, a Professional Game Match Officials spokesperson confirmed on Monday evening.

‘Wholehearted and continuing support’
Piara Powar, executive director of Football Against Racism in Europe, a group working with European governing body Uefa to end discrimination in football, said the remarks were “medieval in tone” and demonstrated the “appalling and damaging sexist attitudes” that still existed in the sport.

There was criticism too from the government, with Sports Minister Hugh Robertson saying: “It is very disappointing to hear these comments at a time when we are trying to get more women participating and officiating in sport, particularly football.”

The English Football Association gave its “wholehearted and continuing support” to female referees, while England defender Rio Ferdinand was one of the many Twitter users to register his displeasure with Gray and Keys.

“What’s wrong with a woman being an official in a football game? I’m cool with it,” Ferdinand posted.

In fact, the 25-year-old Massey got arguably the biggest call of the game correct, adjudging Raul Meireles to be marginally onside when the Liverpool midfielder ran onto a deep pass before squaring the ball for Fernando Torres to open the scoring in the 36th minute. Liverpool won the game 3-0.

Massey is one of 853 females officiating in English football, from grass roots level up to the Premier League (levels 1-8), the FA said.

‘Fantastic ambassadors’
Amy Fearn last year became the first woman to referee a second-tier League Championship match.

The FA said all its female officials were “fantastic ambassadors” for football, adding the organisation “will continue to offer every encouragement to all officials within the football family to progress to the highest levels possible”.

The Sky Sports pair are not the first commentators to be caught making inappropriate remarks thinking they were off-camera.

In 2004, former Manchester United manager Ron Atkinson racially insulted Chelsea defender Marcel Desailly when commentating on a Champions League match in 2004. Atkinson was later forced to resign, acknowledging his comments were “obviously unacceptable”. — Sapa-AP

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