Sky Sports’ premier broadcasting duo are shown the door after their “prehistoric” views are condemned across the game, whilst the FA report an increase in women wanting to get into refereeing - further good news for a game already on the up.
Football is all about winners and losers – just ask Richard Keys and Andy Gray.
It may take some time for the dust to fully settle on the sexism row that exploded after the pair’s sexist comments about a female official were leaked to the press, but the former Sky Sports duo have been left in little doubt as to the losers of this saga.
Richard Keys has this evening resigned from his role at Sky Sports. Whether he jumped before he was pushed is a moot point, but his position appeared untenable throughout a day in which both he and Gray - who was sacked yesterday for “unacceptable behaviour” - publicly apologised for their comments.
Suspended by Sky Sports on Monday for their “inexcusable” comments, which included a suggestion that Sian Massey - a level three referee and FIFA-listed assistant referee - didn’t know the offside rule because she was a woman, the duo’s fate appears to have been sealed by further off-air footage of inappropriate behaviour leaked from the Premier League broadcaster.
The clips - which showed Gray behaving in a lewd manner towards presenter Charlotte Jackson and Keys making sexist comments about the former girlfriend of his colleague Jamie Redknapp - suggest that at least one person in the Sky Sports ranks was keen to see the back of them.
Given that former colleagues today accused Keys and Gray of “nasty bullying” which meant they were “hated by crews”, it is certainly possible that a long-suffering colleague dished the dirt on the two but, witch hunt or not, if they had not questioned the ability of a qualified female assistant to do her job, they would almost certainly still be in theirs.
So that’s the losers accounted for but, if football is also about winners, just who has come out of this sorry episode for the better?
One positive point to note was how figures from right across the game - not to mention fans on online forums – have, on the whole, united in condemning the pair as outdated and out of touch.
England striker Kelly Smith said that the pair had “lost credibility as experts on the game”. Writing in today’s Daily Mail, Smith said: “There are still too many involved in the game who haven’t changed and are still stuck in the dinosaur age.”
England skipper Rio Ferdinand echoed Smith’s thoughts via his Twitter account:
“I’m all for women refereeing in football, discrimination should not happen in our game at all … prehistoric views if u think otherwise.”
Former FIFA official and Club Website refereeing expert Graham Poll expressed his sympathy for Massey, whilst condemning the “smug” and “arrogant” presenters at the centre of the controversy.
“It must be very difficult for female match officials to progress in men’s football and any who do, do so on merit and should be held up as role models, not subjected to outdated, sexist attitudes,” Poll wrote in the Daily Mail.
“She [Massey] is already on the FIFA assistant referees’ list in women’s football and at just 25 that is a magnificent achievement.”
A young, successful, female official, Sian Massey is one of the FA’s success stories - a great example of the good work being done by the governing body to develop both the women’s game and the number of referees taking up the game in England.
Girls’ football is the fastest growing sport in the country - the number of girls’ youth teams rose from 4,500 to 6,461 between 2008 and 2010 - and women’s football is also on the up, with a 12% increase in teams over the last year alone (1,408 teams compared to 1,179).
The news regarding female referees is also positive. An FA spokesperson said: “Overall the number in England (Levels 1-8) stands at 853 and climbing, and all of our female match officials act as fantastic ambassadors for the game. They have our wholehearted and continuing support.”
At the start of the season, when the FA said ‘Football Needs You’, they called on men and women to get involved in the game as a coach or referee, with prison officer and qualified referee Tracy Burnett (pictured below), one of their five “real life stars" of the campaign.
The concern after Keys’ and Gray’s now infamous exchange was that the support and encouragement offered by the FA to aspiring female referees might be undone by the pair's chauvanistic comments, reflecting the views of a forgotten age.
I mean, who would want to get into refereeing to have their ability questioned before they’ve even made a decision?
Thankfully, the best news I heard over the last few days were reports that the FA have seen a surge in requests from women wanting to become referees since the weekend.
It’s already a big year for women’s football in England - the new Women’s Super League kicks off in April followed by the World Cup in Germany this summer - but the game may just have taken a shot in the arm from an unexpected source.
Simmons said: "I hope attitudes to women referees will change in a similar way to feelings about female football commentators. There was a big fuss at first but their presence is now seen as normal."
As football moves into the 21st century, the game must progress and reflect the society that we live in, so it’s with some irony that the cause of the female referee may just have been given an welcome but unexpected boost from two fully paid up members of the Old Boys Club.
Funny old game, football.
Dan Pope, Club Website editor
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