No Suprise – sexism in sport!

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.

Referee's Assistant, Sian Massey

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.

About equalityedge

I run Equality Edge and its unique and creative "Working with Difference" project. It supports employers and managers in gaining a competitive and cost saving advantage from meeting equality and diversity best practice obligations. Coaching and workshops are used to deliver organisational, team and leadership development, assisting in improving communication and the understanding of the impact difference has on workplace behaviour.
This entry was posted in discrimination, Prejudice, race equality, Sexism, teenage sexism, Uncategorized, workplace bullying. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to No Suprise – sexism in sport!

  1. Jan Willis says:

    Football rife with sexism? Surely not! This sort of thing just increases my admiration for women like Karren Brady, Gaby Logan, Clare Balding and now Sian Massey who have to up with sexist put-downs and personal abuse (both on and off air) every day of their working lives. Keep up the good work girls! As for Messrs Gray and Keys they have exposed their own hypocrisy – in one breath criticising Karren Brady for drawing attention to sexism in football and in the next ridiculing a professional referee purely on the basis of her sex. We should congratulate them – they have probably done more to expose the extent of sexism in football in 5 minutes than years of feminist campaigning could ever have achieved. It’s time to kick sexism out of football once and for all. Are you listening Sky Sports?

    • equalityedge says:

      Perhaps it also needs those of us who notice or care enough to support women trying to make their way in a mainly male environment.
      I am certain similar patterns apply here (voiced by the commentators) that keep women suppressed in the workplace (glass ceiling) and out of the board-room.
      More power to Karren Brady

  2. These remarks were uncalled for the young lady did a good job and should be treaed fairly. comentators should be sacked they were rude with the remarks

  3. Ariane5 says:

    Nice post. It’s heartening to see so much anger at this disgraceful abuse of the majority of the population.

    I don’t think sacking these two buffoons is Draconian at all. It’s beyond time we started taking sexism more seriously and the only way to do that is to come down hard on offenders. We need to make it totally socially unacceptable so that people will not feel comfortable referring to it publicly as “just a bit of harmless banter between mates”.

    That response reminds me of those people who say of their abuse of others “Oh, it was just a joke! Your problem is you have no sense of humour”, thereby absolving the abuser of any responsibility and making it difficult to address any more for fear of attracting more ridicule. This is what keeps many women and men unwilling to speak out publicly about sexism.

    Andy Gray and Richard Keys both behaved appallingly, and their offence was expressing unacceptable private views in the public arena – not that they got caught doing so.

    I see Gray has been relieved of his post today. I truly believe Sky has let him go purely because further evidence of his sexism has emerged and the papers have run with this story in a big way today. If neither had been the case, I’m certain he would still be hanging onto his job.

    I guarantee it won’t be long before his wife/partner/Mother/daughter are wheeled out to tell us all what great love and respect he has for women.

    My only question now is why is Keys still employed?

  4. Rupen says:

    Well, Andy Gray has gone, and im sure Richard Keys will follow. The precdent was set with the saking of Ron Atkinson and also Robbie Elliot for a completely different charge (selling world cup football tickets). If only actual footballers were held up to this sort of scrutiny and judjement and were not allowed to play or get automatically sacked for their misdemeanors.

  5. equalityedge says:

    I suppose the original comment is in need of an update now Sky have sack Andy Gray. Several people have suggested this might make him a bit of a martyr and hero figure in some people’s eyes. It is noticeable that there are plenty of sympathetic comments of blogs, Twitter and other public forums. But I cannot help but re-assert my original comment that there was no choice as to the outcome.

    One communication I received suggested that Sky’s HR could have suspended him for an extended period and instructed him into some serious and public education and community development programme involved in women’s football. This would have been an interesting option, though I think with the follow-up information about him, they were left with no other choice than dismissal. Let that be a lesson to all sexist men – there is no room for you in today’s workplace!

  6. Alan Og says:

    A little bit late but this is a most interesting topic.

    I have a view about the incident and that is that the incident was blown way out of proportion, as in many cases people are eager to jump on the bandwagon when someone in the public eye makes a gaffe, as it adds real fuel to a cause they are passionate about. Before I enrage those who differ from my view, let me try to explain my position.

    Firstly, we all say things that we may not actually mean, and in conversation occasionally, we slip up. Banter is a part of everyday life, but I tend to think that people take it far more seriously than ever intended. In this instance, Keys and Gray were genuinely surprised that there was a woman official for such a big game. They reacted with the emotional side of their brain, rather than the rational one. Both have daughters, and so I would be surprised if they had thought about things rationally that they would have been quite as controvertial in their views (made off air by the way) as they were. I personally find it difficult to come to terms with women (or indeed men who haven’t played football at a decent level) moving onto refereeing at the highest level, because I believe it is immensely beneficial to have played the game in order to really understand it. Also, whether we agree with it or not, we are in the process of changing from a world that has been perceived as “male dominated” to one of equal rights/views. I stress the word “changing”. All major change meets with resistence whether we like it or not. Some people change quicker than others, but my point is that change follows a natural process. It will take time for people to adjust to accept women referees for example in a traditionally male dominated sport. In the same way, it took people time to come to terms with the smoking ban in public places. Part of the process of change is to try to understand why people are resistant, and dealing with that, rather than villifying them as unfit people. I sense that many people prefer the “public execution” because it really brings to light an important issue and furthers their cause. So, sorry Keys/Gray, you said the wrong thing at the wrong time, on your bike. Back to Ron Atkinson – silly, silly mistake I agree, but people forget that he did more to promote black players at the top level in football than anyone I remember, he was a true pioneer. I personally know one of the highest profile players he brought forward, and he did his utmost to help them integrate and be accepted as equal, and is revered by masses of black people. His real actions have no hint of racial predjudice, but he made a silly mistake trying, probably when he was trying to be amusing.

    I also recognise also that many people will disagree with my position, but it is genuinely what I believe in. This doesn’t make me sexist in any way shape or form. Back to the Keys/Gray behaviour and looking at the bigger picture. For over 20 years they have been very successful broadcasters (not my cup of tea I might add), but I can’t recall any great drama’s or masses of public complaint. So, they make one error (perceived by many) and they are up for public execution. Is this really fair ? Yes, I did see the Gray incident with the microphone – bafoonish unwanted behaviour, I agree, trying to court popularity perhaps, but when we judge, how can anyone see the wider context in which that behaviour was made. It is possible that this remark was made in response to something else that was said or done, we just don’t know, we can only take things on face value. If the female involved had been offended I agree she would have been quite within her right to complain but perhaps she was afraid of doing that which is a real concern and points to broader issues about sexual harrassment and bullying. In this regard, (again, depending on the context of the behaviour) Gray should have been taken to one side and told in no uncertain terms that it was unacceptable and unprofessional.

    The Karen Brady comments were interesting – for years I have respected her views and admired how she has succeeded in what we would all agree has been a male dominated profession. She has fought the case for female equality very well by being seen as a positive role model. I have always liked her comments on the Apprentice, she appears to be the voice of sensible reason. She was obviously disgusted with the incident and made her views quite clear in a tabloid newspaper column which I have to admit I don’t read regularly. Clearly she is entitled to her view, I am to mine. But a few weeks later, I happended to read her column and she was talking about Peter Read’s difficult/impossible job at Plymouth Argyle. She ended the column concluding that a job like this should really be the domain of a younger coach !!!!! And what about age discrimination ???? Now, I am sure (no, I am positive) that Karen Brady hadn’t intended to offend, but I suspect I am not the only person who spotted this gaffe ! Its just an example of how things can be taken out of context if we choose to get on our high horse about a cause we feel strongly about.

    For those who read my post who feel that I endorse sexism, ageism in any way, you are way wide of the mark. I just think that at times we all slip up and perhaps say something that isn’t really reflective of our deeper views. The problem lies when people become so precious about their views and forget in many cases that there wasn’t any intent. Life can be like treading on egg shells, and who hasn’t slipped up from time to time (should that be banana skins).

    By the way, I was at a championship match last year (long before this commotion) when the same lady referee was on the line. The male referee got injured and she replaced him for the last 20 minutes. The comments around the vicinity were polarised and interesting. I was pensive, slightly resistant, but said to my son that I would judge her on her performance. She did a great job, and was unnoticed which is the best compliment to any referee. It hasn’t changed my view however about refereeing at the highest level.

    • equalityedge says:

      You are right of course Alan, we all slip up and make mistakes. Sometimes these errors are more public than others. For all we know in the Keys/Grey affair there could have been a sub-agenda that Sky wanted to get rid of them and save some money. By releasing the second video, Sky determined the outcome for their commentators. Like it or not, they had to go.

      What was essential, once the mistake had been made, was that Sky had to act. They could not be seen to be endorsing this kind of sexist banter. Many women at work throughout the country have to endure it daily and consistently – it can only be seen for what it is; sexism and harassment.

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