Apparently there's been a bit of an uproar about Andy Gray and Richard Keys' off-air comments about female match official Sian Massey. Who'd have thought an ex-professional footballer and a presenter who has been caught out doing this sort of thing before would hold these views and be stupid enough to voice them in an environment where they knew microphones were present? The comments were ridiculous, barbaric and pre-historic (never thought I'd see Rio Ferdinand cast as the voice of reason), and to be fair do not differ from those made, if not held by thousands of men involved in the professional and amateur football up and down the country and abroad:
'Well done love, nice to see you're having a go but we'll still have a cheeky glance at your arse, and when you mess up it's back to the kitchen for you!'
They may have a point.
The big issue that has been thrust forward by the leaking of these comments is whether the casual sexism Andy and Rich used in a private conversation off-camera is acceptable in modern football. The powers that be have long since sought to kick racism out of the sport, and rightly so. Anyone who airs racist views or uses racist language - whether meant for public broadcast or not - is likely to be made to regret it. This conscious attack on discrimination has led to a situation where non-white players, managers and officials can ply their trade at the highest level in the UK without the abuse that still sours football in Europe and beyond. Will women one day be able to do the same?
Men's professional football is dominated by men. Please feel free to take 5 minutes to recover from the bombshell. It's not a mixed sport but there's nothing stopping women running clubs, managing teams or officiating games. Leaving aside the fact that she is big pals with two men who are hardly bastions of women's rights, Karen Brady is a prime example of a strong woman who has made a big impact on the clubs she has been involved in. Another would be Delia Smith, provided they keep the microphone off her. As Ms Massey showed in the Wolves vs Liverpool match, women are just as likely as men to get decisions right or indeed get them wrong during a match.
There are apparently over 800 female officials in England, ranging from local park matches up to the professional leagues. Refereeing amateur league football is a thankless task at the best of time..very little money for potential verbal abuse, threats of violence and god knows what else. The women who enjoy the game enough to put themselves through that, knowing that they are starting with the disadvantage of probably not being taken seriously, should be applauded. Instead a they are subjected to witless 'humour' and put-downs.
Was it right for Sky to sack Andy and force Ricky to choose to quit? Almost certainly, though Peter 'Columbo' Reid seems to have unearthed some sort of conspiracy against Mr Gray. There is no reason why women cannot be equally good as officials, chairmen, scouts or any other position within the game where physical strength is not a factor. These comments were made by two men who were the voice of football for a broadcaster that has been the home of football in the UK for nearly 20 years. If they had been allowed back on the air Sky would have been at best turning a blind eye to, and at worst condoning these comments...a stance they thankfully did not wish to be seen to be taking.
If it does turn out to be some sort of revenge for Andy Gray's part in the phone-hacking scandal (and the speed that the clip of him asking Charlotte Jackson to 'tuck this in' was found does seem a bit iffy), then the right outcome has been reached for the wrong reasons. Hopefully this will lead to a change of attitudes and a more equal footing for women in men's football..and with any luck it will clear the way for Stuart Hall to provide the commentary on Fifa 12!
PS. Male referees can make some odd decisions as well.