Sky television prides itself as being at the forefront of developments in football broadcasting, so questions will undoubtedly be asked after two of their most popular presenters Richard Keys and Andy Gray were embroiled in a scandal over alleged comments made before yesterday’s match between Wolves and Liverpool.
The pair made disparaging remarks off-air about assistant referee Sian Massey, believing their microphones were switched off. While the comments were not broadcast, they soon became public after they were passed to the Daily Mail newspaper by an anonymous source, enraging football fans all over the country.
Let’s not be naive; football is, and almost certainly always will be, a male-dominated sport. No doubt sexist views prevail in many board rooms and dressing rooms. Women still tend to be tolerated, rather than embraced within the game. Even Karren Brady, a highly successful business woman who has earned her fortune within football, is subjected to inexcusable sexism- a fact only emphasised by Keys’ sarcastic reference to her statement in her newspaper column this week.
TalkSport radio prides itself on its tagline ‘for men who love to talk sport’, and only use male presenters for their shows. The BBC at least, are more progressive, employing several women as match day commentators on Radio Five Live and using Gabby Logan to present Match of the Day on occasion and to anchor the highly successful Inside Sport programme. Jacqui Oatley, was famously also the first woman to appear as a commentator on Match of the Day.
Sky have made some effort to include women in their footballing schedule, with Clare Tomlinson presenting Football First and Goals on Sunday for a spell and an array of female presenters used on Sky Sports News, but often many of them appear to have been employed more for their appearance than their sporting knowledge.
So what can be done to alter perceptions and eradicate seemingly ingrained sexism?
Football now has a broader fan base than ever before, with many women as passionate and knowledgeable about the game as their male counterparts. There is no reason to suggest that they are any less capable of commentating, reporting on, or even officiating a game.
Let’s make one thing clear. Sian Massey is a qualified referee and therefore is equally equipped to run the line as an assistant as anyone else, male or female, who holds the same qualification. No doubt, she will make some dubious calls from time to time and enrage a group of supporters, in exactly the same way as most male officials do on a weekly basis. Her knowledge of the game and its rules however, cannot be called into question and for the likes of Keys and Gray to suggest she cannot know the offside rule simply because of her gender is a disgrace and they should be obligated to explain their jibes.
Sky have issued a statement condemning the comments, yet there has been no formal explanation as yet from either Keys or Gray. Apologising to their employers in this instance is not enough; had their observations been of a racist nature rather than sexist, they would almost certainly have been forced to issue a public apology. Surely the implications are equally as serious? At the very least, Ms Massey deserves an admission from the pair that their words were unacceptable and inaccurate.
Ironic then, that despite this scandal, Massey had actually created headlines in her own right before the news of Keys and Gray’s bigotry was made public. Keys had rightfully predicted there would be a big decision to be made in the game, but was convinced the female official would fail to make the correct judgement. In fact, Massey did exactly that, correctly keeping her flag down in the build up to Liverpool’s first goal, while the Wolves fans bayed for blood, incorrectly believing that Raul Meireles should have been flagged offside.
It was a key decision and a tough call and had it not been judged so accurately, no doubt the headlines would have taken a decidedly different tone. This is the crux of the problem; sexism is still innate within the game, and too many people still want women in football to fail. Keys and Gray would have lapped up any significant error in judgement on Massey’s part. This is why they should be brought to task over their jibes. If they are allowed to spout their outdated views unchallenged, then football as a global sport, accessible to all remains just a pipe dream.