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James Lawton: Keys and Gray are supposed to be the voices of football – not bitter derision

As in the Ron Atkinson case, no amount of time is likely to take the heat out of this performance. The fact it didn't go out on air is beside the point

You didn't need any particular skin colour to believe that Ron Atkinson – despite a fine record of encouraging and celebrating emerging young black stars like Cyrille Regis and Laurie Cunningham – had made a pyre for his broadcasting career when, beside a microphone he thought was dead, he uttered a racist comment on the work ethic of Marcel Desailly.

Nor do you have to be a woman to be sickened by the sexist remarks of Sky's leading football broadcasters Richard Keys and Andy Gray and the so far wholly inadequate response of their employers.

The truth is that you don't have to be a lot of things to say that not only was the prejudice expressed by Keys and Gray shocking, it also cast grave doubts about their future credibility whenever football is besieged by something we might describe as a moral crisis.

Or at least an issue which demands the ability to separate right from wrong, bar-room rhetoric from an item generally known as conscience or, put another way, have the operating facilities of a thinking adult.

You don't have to adore, love or respect women for all those qualities that you suspect may be inherently superior to those generally possessed by the male gender.

You don't have to have at your fingertips the stupendous list of female achievement in precisely how many areas formerly dominated by men.

What it takes is some understanding that sneering comments about the ridiculousness of having a plainly fit, alert and intelligent young woman running a touchline, in full understanding of when a player is onside or not, casts grave doubt about the ability of the authors to make any judgement call more taxing than getting out on the right side of the bed in the morning.

We know that Sky have reason to believe they own football – in so many respects, of course, they do – and we are also aware this has led to an appalling proprietary approach, which includes so much brand-pushing that the concept of objectivity sailed out of the studio window many moons ago and only occasionally reappears when a maverick like Graeme Souness or Ruud Gullit wanders into the studio unaware that his prime purpose is to support the product.

George Graham, when manager of Leeds United, once declared himself in this category quite hilariously when he was asked to provide some insights into the tactical intrigue of a fascinating match in which his team had been involved. Graham dead-panned: "It was possibly the worst game I've ever seen."

Not that there is anything remotely funny about the attack by Keys and Gray on the splendid, 25-year-old lineswoman Sian Massey, who officiated without noticeable error, and strikingly well in the crucial decision not to wave Raul Meireles offside when he set up Liverpool's first goal at Wolves on Saturday.

Atkinson paid the price for a remark that he has no doubt agonised over for the best part of six years. ITV chief Brian Barwick, later chairman of the FA, advised him instantly that he should resign on the spot and he lost his column with The Guardian.

So far Sky have not been nearly so proactive. Initially they issued a statement of admonishment, with the rider that the remarks had not been on air, and then, no doubt under a gathering storm of protest, announced that Keys and Gray would be stood down for last night's Bolton v Chelsea game.

A cooling-off period, perhaps, but unfortunately, and as in the Atkinson case, no amount of time is likely to take the heat out of such a crass performance.

The fact that it didn't go out on air is surely beside the point. Keys and Gray have no doubt become extremely polished performers, in their blokey way, down all the years, but how many man-hours of rehearsal will it now take to dissipate the impression they created with the off-air derision they applied to Ms Massey's first appearance on a Sky screen?

These are men who, after all, are paid large salaries to present and dissect the national game. Gray is provided with all kinds of gadgetry to further his image as a supreme analyst of the game he played with great distinction. The extent to which he has now undermined himself, along with Keys, was perhaps nowhere captured better than in the reaction of Kenny Dalglish's daughter, Kelly Cates, who declared: "Just been reading something called the offside law; too much for my tiny brain. [It] must be clogged by nail polish fumes."

Keys and Gray are supposed to be the voices of football, not the creators of bitter derision.

Atkinson's career died when he put his name to a racial stereotype and there was no talk then of a cooling-off period, a time for him to reflect on what he had said, even though like Keys and Gray he had not intended it for public consumption, and then perhaps make his case that it was out of keeping with values he had displayed in his football career and in his life.

Big Ron didn't have his wrist slapped. He wasn't stood down for a night. He was history.

For some that was harsh. Perhaps a similar interpretation would greet such action in the current case, but it is idle to draw a distinction between the two offences. Both were about expressions of a total lack of respect, for black footballers in one instance and at least half the population in another.

But then isn't everyone permitted at least one mistake? A lot depends on the degree of it. One thing is certain, if Ron Atkinson was consigned to history Richard Keys and Andy Gray cannot complain if they have to spend rather longer than one night on the cusp of it.

Sky should not have to be told this was no yellow-card offence – and a one-match suspension simply will not do.

Have Australia turned their backs on Test cricket?

Australia's storming comeback in the one-day series is no doubt doing wonders for national morale Down Under – but for the rest of us, and not just the battered Ashes winners, it is also posing a few disturbing questions.

One is about the treadmill the leading players are required to travel along on the grotesque, money-grubbing circus that now passes for an international cricket schedule. On this occasion it just happens to have worked against England – but this is not the issue on the approach to the World Cup.

It is one raised by the great Brian Lara many years ago when he complained of being burnt out by the demands made on his talent.

Most serious of all, in this corner at least, though, is the fact that while Australia have shown no signs of losing their edge in the shortened forms of the game, they are widely believed to be at least five years away from being competitive in the one that matters most.

Australia were undressed in the Test series. Now they are wearing plenty of finery. The implication is troubling indeed. It suggests that arguably the greatest of cricket nations has changed its priorities and, perhaps, with no facility to go back.

Kangaroo Caroline? Try the Teletubbies

Caroline Wozniacki, the Danish tennis player, explained that she had fabricated a story of being attacked by a baby kangaroo to spice up her press conference at the Australian Open. She shouldn't try quite so hard.

The master of the art, by some distance, was Goran Ivanisevic. He had a simple device. He told the truth about the astonishing vagaries of mood he experienced before every tennis challenge.

At the Barcelona Olympics, he explained that his infant, warring nation of Croatia had ordered him to go to war with a racket rather than an automatic weapon. "What can I do?" he shrugged.

He was best value, however, when he explained his torturous approach to his winning Wimbledon final against Pat Rafter. "I couldn't sleep at all," he reported. "It was terrible. I tried everything but nothing worked until, in the morning, I turned on the television and there was the Teletubbies. Suddenly, I was at peace. I knew everything would be fine."

You couldn't make that up, Caroline. Another lesson from Goran: rarely is anything as sensational as the truth.

An apology

In yesterday's Independent, Ian Herbert attributed quotes to the ITV football analyst Andy Townsend which suggested that he had made sexist comments on Twitter as part of the Andy Gray/Richard Keys story. Those quotes originated from a spoof Twitter account. We apologise for any embarrassment caused to Mr Townsend, who has no connection to the @AndyDTownsend account