No place for sexism in sport or TV

What a tawdry scene of smug self-satisfaction emerged from the studios of Sky Sports last week.

“Someone will have to go down and explain the offside rule to her.” It sounded very much like a case of presumed incompetence by presenter Richard Keys, on account of the fact that touchline official, Sian Massey, happened to be a woman. I’d very much like either Keys, or his ex-colleague Gray, to don a pair of black shorts and officiate at a Premier League football match. Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if Ms Massey, whose competence to do her job was called into question before the game had even started, was more successful in presenting a Sports’ Show to camera, given the chance, than Keys or Gray would be in running a line in the cauldron of a Premier League match. Instead of being the target of their insults, she should have earned their respect and praise for climbing the officiating tree in a heavily male dominated game. She would need to have been so much better than her male counterparts.

I have always argued that free speech is of tantamount importance in any civilised society but there are certain situations when there have to be responsilbilities and boundaries. In this particular incident of palpable sexism, don’t Keys and Gray have a responsilbility and a loyalty to all those who pay a Sky Sports’ subscription, who effectively pay part of their wages? Some of these subscribers happen to be women. Don’t the presenters have a professional responsibility to all viewers? What’s more, weren’t these two supposed to be mentors to other young up-and-coming professionals at Sky? What sort of example did they set on this occasion?

You might argue that these comments were made during a private conversation but my contention is, if these two really feel only men are capable of officiating at a football match, they shouldn’t be in the privileged position of presenting a football show, watched (and paid for) by both sexes.

Furthermore, don’t we have a supposed FA Respect campaign at present? Were these comments respectful? They were certainly not uttered in any light-hearted manner – there was no hint of parody, nor of irony. Bantering is linked to laughter – this conversation was conducted by both men in a clear, matter of fact manner, with no hint of humour.

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These two were in a powerful position. We, the audience, trusted their judgement, we had confidence in their opinions about the game of football, yet all along they have believed that just because someone happens to be female, that person is incapable of understanding the rules of the game – the sort of judgement the vast majority of us discard when we reach our teenage years. It’s puerile, it’s pathetic and totally unbecoming of two so-called experts.

The knowledgeable Clare Balding and Gabby Logan – just two examples – would give presenters like Keys and Gray a good run for their money any day of the week.

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