By Tony Attwood
Sky Sports presenters Andy Gray and Richard Keys were dropped by Sky after making off-air comments during a game in January 2011 saying that female officials “don’t know the offside rule” and predicting assistant ref Sian Massey would make mistakes during a game a couple of days later.
The comments were boorish, sexist and offensive, but not criminal. Sadly one hears the same thing all the time – but if said publicly by anyone in football action is quite rightly taken.
Barney Francis of Sky spoke out against the comments and initially try to just drop the pair from a match or two, saying it was all just meant as a joke, while hoping to reintroduce them thereafter. But by 25 January Sky had sacked both of them.
The Sky Sports boss then 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. They are inexcusable from anyone at Sky, regardless of their role or seniority.”
Let me repeat, the comments by Keys and Gray were crass, stupid and offensive. But not illegal. But I think Sky were right to dismiss.
Contrast with the Neville quotes on Match of the Day, which suggested that Neville, if having to face Rosicky would deal with him physically. This threat of physical intimidation and/or violence is an offence in law in Britain, and one might have thought that the BBC would immediately move to remove Neville from its rosta.
But instead the Corporation is telling Match Of The Day presenters and pundits to be “careful” about what they say.
Which raises the question, if suggesting one would commit a criminal offence is allowable on Match of the Day, what actually might not be allowable? It is hard to work out.
Neville said, “If that was a training session and somebody did that I’d be first over there and I’d probably look to two-foot him or take him out of the game. If somebody did that in training to me, winding me up, I would be straight in there. I’d smash them.”
He later said his comments were not to be taken seriously which of course is what everyone says when brought before the beak. “It was just a joke m’lud. I wouldn’t really break his legs.” Keys and Gray probably said just the same in their defence of their sexist remarks.
Worse BBC Sport said: “This comment was not meant to offend in any way. Oh so that’s all right then. If I go on TV and say, “if he did that to me in a game I’d set fire to his house and rape his wife,” that would be ok if I then said it was a joke and didn’t mean to offend????
Or it would be excused if the other presenters challenged me – so as to show that others felt it was not ok?
So, the statement says, “BBC Sport will, however, remind the team to take extra care during discussions during our live programmes.”
Meaning, well nothing much has happened but we’ll tell them off anyway.
It is interesting also that the Guardian in reporting the event said, “some viewers” were offended. When they reported the comment about female assistant refs there was no such backtracking, although as we all know there are many men around who are sexist in their attitudes all the time, and so, they could have said in the Sky case, “some viewers.” They didn’t to show that they too were offended.
So apparently the Guardian thinks a footballer who is outmanoeuvred by another more skilful player using physical violence against the more talented man, is ok.
Even worse, what Rosicky did was show stunning skill. Neville was saying it was ok to contemplate and (perhaps) make jokes about using violence to stop such amazing skill.
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