'Sexist' Football pundits caught offside

A female official at a top football match is mocked by the TV presenters. They're now suspended. But is football the only sexist institution?

Richard Keys and Andy Gray were talking off-air, unaware they were being recorded. And so we heard what they really thought of Sian Massey, who was the female assistant referee.

‘Somebody better get down and explain offside to her,’ said Keys. ‘Can you believe that?’ replied Gray. ‘Women don’t know the offside rule.’ ‘’Course they don’t,’ said Keys.

They then went on to make disparaging remarks about a piece Karren Brady, Vice-Chairman at West Ham, had written in The Sun. ‘See charming Karren Brady this morning complaining about sexism? Yeah, do me a favour love.’

In a statement, Sky TV said the two men have apologised for the comments, but that has not quietened the sense of outrage. Plara Power from FARE - which works with UEFA to end discrimination in football - said ‘In an era when women’s and girls’ football is the biggest growing sport in the UK, these comments are medieval in tone.’

Karren Brady agreed: ‘It is abhorrent that gender is the only consideration when talking about female officials,’ a view supported by England football captain Rio Ferdinand. As he tweeted his followers, ‘What’s wrong with a woman being an official in a football game? I’m cool with it. All that counts is do they get the decisions right.’

But is football the only sexist institution? Or does the ‘glass ceiling’ exist elsewhere as well?

This week in Davos, Switzerland, several thousand world leaders will meet for the World Economic Forum but only 16% of them will be women. There are four women out of 22 on the board of trustees, but none on the management board responsible for the running of the organisation.

Herminia Ibarra, Professor at a French business school, is matter-of-fact about it, however. ‘Women are not at the top, and they [the WEF] want top people.’

Don’t quota me
So should more be done to give women equal status in decision making?

The Scandinavian countries of Sweden, Denmark , Norway and Finland are held up as models for women’s equality. They have achieved this partly by using quota systems, ensuring a certain percentage of women are elected to Parliament and onto company boards.

In the Swedish Parliament 47% are female compared to 20% in the UK.

If social forces are against women succeeding, then for many, quota systems are a fair corrective.

Others believe that if you’re good enough, you’ll make it whatever your gender. And that includes Sian Massey.

You Decide

  1. ‘Women have to work harder than men to succeed.’ Do you agree?
  2. ‘Why are we even discussing the Sky football pundits? They’re just blokes being blokes.’ Discuss.


  1. Get into a group and act out the scene at Sky TV after the story broke. In the room are the presenters, the producer, the Public Relations people – perhaps even Sian Massey herself. What are the different views expressed? And how does it end?
  2. Write a scene/poem or song called ‘The Glass ceiling’. It’s about your hopes being thwarted; the realisation that though nothing is said, the unspoken assumption is that you’ll never be allowed to rise beyond a certain level.

Some People Say...

“I’m sick of bleating minorities demanding this or that or whatever!”

What do you think?

Q & A

Do you think quotas are the answer for women in the world?
They’re certainly making a big difference in developing countries like Rwanda. Their parliament is 53% female, a world record. But mixed feelings about quotas remain.
What’s not to like if they correct a bias in the system?
Well, some believe they take away freedom of choice and discriminate against men. Others say that if you make quotas for women, why not for other discriminated-against groups like the disabled, for instance?
It’s certainly hard to see much progress in football.
Well, the Football Association would disagree. They claim to have made ‘real strides’ in encouraging both male and female referees in England. There are now 853 female referees in this country at levels 1 - 8, and the numbers are rising. Sian Massey is just the start.

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