I was sure that my article this week was going to reflect on how Baroness Warsi, the chairman of the main party in Britain’s governing coalition, has said that anti-Muslim prejudice has “passed the dinner table test” and become socially acceptable in the UK. Then, as I was thinking yesterday about what to write, an intriguing news item was reported.
It related to an off-air conversation between two football presenters about female assistant referee Sian Massey and other women involved in men’s football. Sky Sports, the global broadcaster have said that their comments were “not acceptable”. They have received a rebuke for statements made when they though t the microphone was off and will not be involved in the football broadcast this evening. Sky will not comment on whether any additional disciplinary action will be taken.
There is a precedent for the misdemeanour of unexpectedly broadcasting a controversial statement. In 21 April 2004, Ron Atkinson, a major character in British sport made an off-air comment about black players – his mic was also recording him and he was forced by the television company into resigning his post as a well-respected and valued football pundit. How come Richard Keys and pundit Andy Gray when being overtly sexist have received a relatively minor sanction by the broadcaster?
What does the relative change in outcomes suggest? Maybe in the intervening seven years, broadcasters have lowered their standards of acceptable behaviour – or maybe not! What I believe is that racism is seen as a greater misdemeanour (sin) than sexism.
When listening to reaction from members of the public yesterday, I was appalled by the general support for the two. “They were just mates having a bit of banter about something that bothers them” suggested one caller to the radio programme I was listening to. Another, an equally well regarded pundit and BBC broadcaster also supported them, citing that their mistake was to “not have made sure the mic was turned off”.
Karren Brady is the highest profile woman in football in the UK as vice-chair of a premiership club. They made comment about her article in Saturday’s Sun newspaper which complained about the levels of sexism in football. One was heard to say “See charming Karren Brady this morning complaining about sexism? Yeah. Do me a favour love”.
It is not for me to judge one piece of discriminatory behaviour over another. What I know is that the football authorities have worked really hard to kick racism and homophobia out of the game and have been largely successful at this. Surely sexism must follow. The game’s authorities and broadcasters should unite against sexism in all areas. It might mean that Sky Sports should make an example of the two men, who have been the face (or voices) of their coverage since they began in 1992.
Perhaps this response maybe considered a little draconian, but the message must be clear, unambiguous and strong. Even if they had thought their comments were not being recorded, they are not acceptable.