Sky presenter quits in sexism row after rant blaming 'dark forces'

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The Independent Online

The Sky Sports football presenter Richard Keys finally resigned last night after his extraordinary attempt to save his job by publicly apologising for a series of sexist remarks ended in him damning his own employer with references to the work of "dark forces".

Keys said in a statement released by Sky Sports: "I am deeply sorry for my remarks and the offence they have caused; it was wrong and should not have happened. I have thought long and hard and reached the decision that it is time to move on.

"Going forward without Andy would have been almost impossible."

It followed his lengthy interview on the radio station TalkSport, in which he slated his bosses at BSkyB for not publicising the fact that he had apologised to Sian Massey, the assistant referee who had been the target for some of his comments. "There are some dark forces at work here," he muttered to listeners.

Asked why he had chosen TalkSport, Keys, 53, responded: "I listen to you guys all the time, this is the best place, I felt, for me to come and be allowed the time to say what I think."

He pointed out that, "I don't have an agent, I don't have a spin doctor, I don't tweet, I don't have blogs or websites".

As an exercise in how not to limit the damage of what Keys himself described as "a firestorm", the presenter's handling of the issue will be taught on public relations courses for years to come, as a blueprint in what not to do.

Keys may not engage with the internet but colleagues were happy to let the online world know what he was like. After details of his scornful comments to co-presenter Andy Gray about Ms Massey's incomprehension of the offside rule were leaked to The Mail on Sunday, a series of damaging clips of outrageous sexism have emerged this week on YouTube. All were pieces of off-air footage.

Clips Two and Three, as they have become known in the corridors of Sky at Isleworth, west London, were enough to do for Gray, the former Scotland striker and foremost pundit on Sky Sports. With Gray having an outstanding legal action against The News of the World (owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, the biggest shareholder in BSkyB), speculation emerged that he had been punished from on-high, having previously been tolerated. Could these have been Keys's "dark forces"?

While Gray was sacked, Keys was allowed to stay on, apparently considered less dispensable as the ubiquitous anchor of much of Sky's football output. A former breakfast television presenter with TV-am he has been with Sky Sports since 1992, being ever present as the satellite broadcaster has revolutionised coverage of British football.

But as figures from across the game lined up to criticise Keys for his sexist views, few, save the right-wing shock jock Jon Gaunt, a fellow Coventry City supporter, were prepared to fight his corner. Then Clip Four emerged showing Keys crudely discussing a woman – describing her as "it" – in an off-air moment. The presenter decided it was time to embark on a charm offensive.

In scenes reminiscent of the Steve Coogan character Alan Partridge, he ended up on TalkSport posing as a chivalrous knight, coming to the protection of Ms Massey. "If the people who are passing judgement on this have any self-respect, they will stop hounding Sian. Leave her alone! This is not her fault!"

Rather than simply accepting full responsibility for his actions, he accused his critics – footballer Rio Ferdinand and West Ham United vice-chairman Karren Brady – of being hypocrites. And he blamed his employers – "individuals at Sky" – who had prevented him making public his apology to Ms Massey.

His resignation came as Gray apologised for his role in the row, saying he was "devastated by losing the job that I love".

Barney Francis, managing director of Sky Sports, said:"It is disappointing that Richard's career at Sky should end in these circumstances."

It seems Richard Keys was dispensable after all.

What Keys said in his radio interview

* "I cannot believe the frenzy that's blown up. There are dark forces at work here."

"I noticed Rio Ferdinand tweeted and said 'prehistoric banter, no place for it'. Rio. Are you telling me it does not take place in the Manchester United dressing room? My information says it does."

"There is a wider conversation here about is it sexist, is it 'lads' mags banter'. Is there a place for it? That is not for me to judge and this is not the time for that conversation."

"I tried to ring Karren twice on Sunday night. She didn't answer the phone. There is no answerphone on Karren's mobile. That may be a sign of the times at West Ham, I don't know."

"Our prehistoric banter is not acceptable in a modern world, I accept that. We got it wrong. We failed to change while everything was changing about us but one of the reasons is that we liked to have what is described as prehistoric banter."

"We [Sky] have grown up with nobody liking us. We are a little bit like Wimbledon – we have to upset people along the way to get noticed."

* [On the last IT clip]

"Shocking, horrible, out of order, wrong... old-fashioned, no place, behavioural problems that need to be attended to, yeah, reconstruction, yeah."

"I hope this starts... the process of recovery and everybody now can just step back and understand that you know, these boorish and bullish guys understand the magnitude of what happened."