Kicking sexism out of football

By Simon Barrow
January 26, 2011

Even more depressing than the puerile, bigoted and deeply unfunny 'banter' that got Sky TV presenters Andy Gray and Richard Keys into hot water over their comments about referee Sian Massey, is the number of otherwise decent people who are feebly trying to excuse it.

Demeaning comments and behaviour towards women are still regarded as acceptable in many corners of the football universe. But as BBC Scotland journalist Jim Spence says in his eloquent blog, there is no place for sexism in football ( Or anywhere else, for that matter.

Some are complaining about Gray's dismissal, but who would seriously want to (or should have to?) work with someone who thought it was fine to dangle his mic at you, and tell you to "tuck this in for me, love" as he gestured towards his trousers during a commercial break? That's the kind of thing his colleague and co-presenter Charlotte Jackson had to put up with.

What this illustrates is that 'normalising' prejudice segues readily into discriminatory and degrading behaviour. It's neither a 'private matter' (as some have tried to claim), nor something that can be simply pushed aside as the product of 'political correctness' (a lazy, catch-all dismissal deployed by people who don't want to be bothered with rational thought when faced with violations of decency and justice).

North of the border, Scottish referee Morag Pirie, who officiates in the Highland League and the Scottish Third Division, commented on the Gray and Keys affair: "They [made] the comments before the game even started. They hadn't even seen [Massey] perform. It's disrespectful to her as a person. It's hard enough to encourage women to take up refereeing as it is." Quite.

Meanwhile, Sian Massey recently found herself being stood down from running the line for Crewe Alexandra's match with Bradford, for fear of the reaction it might produce. That shows just how spineless the football authorities are in the face of prejudice against women.

So within a week of officiating (very well) at an English Premier League match, the recipient of the prejudiced comments finds herself ruled out of participation in a Football League fixture and then reduced to refereeing in the sixth tier of the pyramid this coming Saturday: the Blue Square Bet North game between Corby Town and Eastwood.

Mind you, Corby manager Graham Dury is to be thoroughly congratulated for his own response. He told BBC Radio Northampton: "If they've dropped her to our level [because of the row], that's a shame. She stamps her authority on the game and she interacts with players well. We've got a top referee for this game... We've had Sian before and she had a fantastic game."

See also: 'Why the "just banter" defence is pathetic (and dangerous)' -


(c) Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia. This article is adapted from his football blog

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