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24 January 2011updated 16 Jan 2012 12:42pm

Time to call foul on this childish locker-room talk

Sky Sports’ Richard Keys and Andy Gray rightly vilified.

By Steven Baxter

In my previous life as a football reporter, I attended a couple of matches where there was a female assistant referee. You should have heard the buzz going around the 100 per cent male press box. Actually, be glad that you didn’t. But you can probably guess the kind of thing that was being said – the kind of casually misogynist blokey banter for which Richard Keys and Andy Gray have been rightly vilified.

The pair expressed dismay at the appointment of the female assistant referee Sian Massey, claiming she wouldn’t understand the offside rule because she’s a woman. And it’s not Keys and Gray’s first offence. Here’s an old clip of them chuckling away at female footballers – including the England players Rachel Yankey and Hope Powell. To be fair to them, there was some comical defending involved in that clip, so their motivation might have been something other than mockery of the women. On the other hand, you hear the latest outburst from the pair and you have to wonder.

The duo’s excusers will come out with the usual tried and tested lines: “Hey, it was just a joke; this was just friendly banter and no one died; they weren’t broadcasting it, so why does it matter?” But I think it goes beyond a bit of banter to something fairly unpleasant. And above all else, it isn’t funny. It’s not a zinger that makes you wince; it’s just a clunky swipe at someone they’d never seen before, saying she’s ignorant because she’s a woman, prejudging her on the basis of her gender. What’s to like about it?

Keys’s comment – “Did you hear charming Karren Brady this morning complaining about sexism? Do me a favour, love” – is perfectly constructed, as well. It has just the right tone of belittling and lack of self-awareness about it. Do me a favour, love! How dare you complain about sexism, love! We’re not sexist, love! But women still don’t understand the offside rule, and a female referee is “fucking hopeless”.

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We all go around saying stuff we’d rather not see repeated in the national newspapers, but Gray and Keys should have known better – not just to keep their misogyny away from microphones that might pick it up, but also not to have been saying it in the first place. They’re national broadcasters, for one thing; football is a massively popular sport among women, for another – that’s a large chunk of their audience that they’re insulting.

Sky Sports does, after all, employ a fair number of female presenters. What are they supposed to make of Keys and Gray’s childish locker-room talk? Giggle away because they don’t understand the offside rule, ho ho? Rodney Marsh got booted out for a clumsy and pretty tasteless gag about the tsunami of 2005. It’s not beyond the realms of reason to think that any decent employer might explain why their behaviour of the weekend fell well below the expected standards. It’s an insult to Keys’ and Gray’s colleagues, subscribers and fans.

Must we be trapped in some kind of blokey, 1970s changing-room atmosphere whenever we go to a sporting event, or watch it on television? I’d like to hope not. Fans, men and women alike, deserve to be represented by someone other than a couple of fossils like Keys and Gray.

Sadly, their views do still speak for a lot of male fans and journos, as my days as a football reporter remind me; but I hope that the reaction to their comments shows that this kind of thing is becoming less acceptable. It’s time to call foul.