Red card! Sexist comments earn football pundits one-match ban

Monday night on Sky Sports goes by the unofficial title of the Andy Gray and Richard Keys show, as two of the most familiar faces in football pick up their microphones.

But those who tuned in to last night's edition of Monday Night Football discovered that the two men who have been the public faces of the satellite channel's football coverage since 1992 were off-air, as Sky Sports struggled to limit the damage done after their locker room banter was caught by a microphone.

Gray and Keys were overheard berating a female official for failing to rule a player offside. It appeared to distress the two of them that women were allowed to officiate at football matches at all, because of their supposed inability to understand the intricacies of the offside rule.

What must have been particularly galling for them was that the replay plainly showed that they were wrong, and Sian Massey, the 25-year-old assistant referee who was the target of their sexist banter, was right.

Yesterday the managing director of Sky Sports, Barney Francis, condemned their comments as "totally unacceptable". He said he had given the two men a dressing down, and told them that someone else would handle last night's live coverage of the match between Chelsea and Bolton.

A recording of the pair chatting when they thought the microphone was switched off was leaked to a Sunday newspaper. They were convinced that the Liverpool player Raul Meireles was offside when he set up Liverpool's first goal against Wolves. Keys, a veteran broadcaster, was also unhappy about a comment made by the most senior woman in the sport, Karren Brady, the vice-chairman of West Ham, who had complained that she had encountered "sexism at its rankest" in the sport.

"Can you believe that? A female linesman! Women don't know the offside rule," Gray, a former Scotland international, was heard saying.

"Course they don't," Keys replied, adding later: "The game's gone mad. Did you hear charming Karren Brady this morning complaining about sexism? Yeah, do me a favour, love."

In a statement yesterday, Mr Francis said the pair had been disciplined. "I have spoken directly to both Richard Keys and Andy Gray this morning. It has been made clear to each of them that their comments were totally unacceptable," he said.

"Those views are inexcusable, entirely inconsistent with our ethos as a business and employer, and will rightly offend many of our customers, our people, and the wider public."

The England captain, Rio Ferdinand, was one of the first to disown their remarks. "I'm all for women refereeing in football, discrimination should not happen in our game at all... prehistoric views if u think otherwise," he wrote on Twitter.

Neither of the men apologised on air during Sunday’s Blackburn v West Bromwich Albion game after the incident had emerged, a situation they and others have since sought to rectify on a number of occasions.

Last night, a humbled Keys rang Ms Massey to give her a personal apology, which she graciously accepted.

The managing director of Sky Sports, Barney Francis, condemned the comments as “totally unacceptable.” In a statement, Mr Francis said that the pair had been disciplined. “I have spoken directly to both Richard Keys and Andy Gray this morning. It has been made clear to each of them that their comments were totally unacceptable,” he said. “Those views are inexcusable, entirely inconsistent with our ethos as a business and employer, and will rightly offend many of our customers, our people, and the wider public.”

Kenny Dalglish turned the row into a joke at his press conference by asking the Sky Sports reporter Vinny O'Connor whether he was all right about there being women in the room. His daughter, Kelly Cates, a former Sky Sports reporter, tweeted: "Phew am exhausted. Just read about something called 'the offside rule'. Too much for my tiny brain. Must be damaged from nail polish fumes."

Ms Brady was clearly angry that the men had made derogatory remarks about Ms Massey's professionalism.

"Here is somebody doing a very important job under very difficult circumstances, who deserves and warrants our respect, and here are two people who other people listen to and get their views from not giving her a chance," she told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"What really upsets me is the fact that only females in our industry are judged by their gender and that is categorically wrong," she added. "I'm surprised they didn't say 'we'd better go down and tell her to put the kettle on'."

The Sports minister, Hugh Robertson, said: "It is very disappointing to hear these comments at a time when we are trying to get more women participating and officiating in sport, particularly football."

But the former England women's cricket captain, Rachel Heyhoe-Flint, suggested that there had been an over-reaction. "I know Richard and Andy very well indeed. These were tongue-in-cheek comments and we are blowing something enormously out of proportion here," she said.

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