The offside rule and discrimination in football explained (sort of).

January 25, 2011

Stop Press: Andy Gray sacked by Sky. The subject of football’s institutionalized culture of discrimination was brought under the spotlight when off-air remarks were recorded and made public. The conversation between Sky TV’s Andy Gray and Richard Keys, took place prior to a game on which they were about to commentate. It was to cost Gray his lucrative appointment.

Background

Andy Gray and Richard Keys have been among the most respected journalists in Sky TV’s football broadcasting. They have helped build the franchise to a position of some market leadership in the UK. They had been preparing for broadcasting a match [January 2011] when they engaged in discussion about a young ‘assistant referee’ Sian Massey, a rising star in female sports administration. She had refereed the FA Women’s Premier League Cup final, FA Women’s Cup, women’s international fixtures including the Women’s World Cup and European Championship and many Football League matches [Image above].

The conversation was also scathing about Karren Brady a leading football entrepreneur and TV personality. Brady had written in her newspaper column that morning about the level of sexist abuse she had received recently.

The remarks by Gray and Keys were leaked and the story widely publicised and debated in the United Kingdom. The commentators were subsequently suspended from duty.

“Women don’t know the offside rule”

The Mail’s account of the incident was as follows
:

Andy Gray and Richard Keys were forced to apologise after sexist off-air comments about assistant referee Sian Massey were made public. Speaking to each other in the studio before the game, believing their microphones were off, Keys had said: ‘Somebody better get down there and explain offside to her.’

Former Scotland striker Gray replied: ‘Can you believe that? A female linesman. Women don’t know the offside rule.’ To which Keys said: ‘Course they don’t. I can guarantee you there will be a big one today. Kenny (Liverpool manager Dalglish) will go potty. This isn’t the first time, is it? Didn’t we have one before? The game’s gone mad. Did you hear charming Karren Brady this morning complaining about sexism? Do me a favour, love.’

Appalling and medieval

The comments were labelled ‘appalling’ and ‘medieval’ by Football Against Racism in Europe, a group who work with UEFA to wipe out all discrimination in football. Executive director Piara Powar, [was quoted as saying] ‘Their comments reveal the appalling and damaging sexist attitudes that exist across football’

Two earlier off-air incidents

The incident was compared with two notorious remarks made off air, but recorded and publicised. The earlier one involved BBC football commentator Ron Atkinson who was fired as a result of his use of racist language. The more recent one occurred when Prime Minister Gordon Brown was campaigning in May 2010, when he raged against a woman whose views he described as racist.

The evidence for male discrimination

Conservative MP Dominic Raab contributed to the debate by saying that discrimination worked two ways, and that men were also subject to flagrant discrimination, accusing feminists of “obnoxious bigotry” Hie cited Labour politician Harriet Harman who had said that the banking crisis had been caused by men, and probably wouldn’t have happened if women had been in charge.

Offside too hard for tiny brains?

Former England women’s cricket captain Rachel Heyhoe-Flint was supportive of Keys and Gray, describing their exchange as “banter”.

The sexism debate even cropped up in Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish’s news conference after the match At the start, Dalglish jokingly asked Sky’s male reporter whether he minded that there was a woman present. The Scot’s daughter Kelly, a former presenter on Sky Sports News, joked on her Twitter account: “Phew, am exhausted. Just read about something called ‘the offside rule’. Too much for my tiny brain. Must be damaged from nail polish fumes.”

Leadership and discrimination

The debate has moved from a few ill-judged remarks by two football commentators to sweeping generalisations of the type:

“women can’t understand the offside rule”

“men are the cause of the world’s economic woes”

“feminists are obnoxious bigots”

“men are subject to unnoticed and flagrant discrimination”

Andy Gray fired by Sky

The debate continues with little evidence of critical reflection. But stop press: Andy Gray was fired by Sky after further incidents were brought to light [4.30 pm, Tuesday January 25th 2011]


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