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Sexism in English football

Just over a decade ago, Richard Keys an Andy Gray, who had long been the voice of Sky Sports football coverage in the UK were forced to leave their jobs.

The reason was because tapes were leaked to the media in which the duo made derogatory comments about a female linesman and other female figures involved in the football industry in Britain.

The first controversy came during a league match involving Liverpool and Wolves. Raul Mireles provided a through ball to Fernando Torres who raced away to score. However, Sian Massey who was running the line on that day, flagged for offside, causing the pair to mock her, believing that the microphones had been turned-off. They said that somebody needed to explain the offside rule to Massey, because it was not something that women could understand.

TV replays showed that Massey had got the decision absolutely right, something neither of the pair acknowledged at the time, although they later apologised to Massey for her comments.

Keys then was found to have made an equally insulting remark about West Ham United vice-chairman Karen Brady, who had complained about sexism in the game.

Meanwhile, Gray further blotted his copybook when another tape found him discussing Massey’s physical appearance with another colleague.

The duo came under intense pressure, although Keys attempted to justify his comments saying that they were just “misguided” fun and reflected a “lads’ mag” sense of humour. Their employers were not laughing though and, after meeting with Sky Sports bosses, they were forced to resign.

Two years later Keys and Gray returned to television with Al Jazeera where they presented English and European Football from Doha in Qatar. They are now the face of the BeIN Sports channels.

Arguably, though, their attitudes were typical of many prevalent in the English game and may have held back a generation of women wanting to get involved with high-level officiating.

Sian Massey-Ellis (she now goes by her married name) remained the only senior English match officials for years, despite being widely respected for her abilities.

It took until earlier this month for Rebecca Welsh to be appointed as the first woman to referee an English Football League game when she took charge of the match in League Two between Harrogate Town and Port Vale.

They are slightly more advanced across the Channel. In April 2019, Stéphanie Frappart, became the first female referee I Ligue 1, and then, when she took charge of the European Super Cup match between Liverpool and Chelsea, the first woman to officiate in a major men’s European match.

Just a few weeks ago, she made more history when she took charge of the World Cup qualifier between Netherlands and Latvia, the first woman to officiate a FIFA World Cup match.

No doubt Keys and Gray did not approve. But that is why they spend their working lives in the Middle East now, where their antediluvian attitudes are more accepted.

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