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Page last updated at 13:53 GMT, Monday, 24 January 2011

Sky discipline Andy Gray & Richard Keys over comments

Andy Gray and Richard Keys
Keys and Gray were talking off-air in the build-up to Wolves v Liverpool

Sky Sports duo Andy Gray and Richard Keys were stood down from Monday's game between Bolton and Chelsea following comments about a female official.

Believing their microphones were off, Keys and Gray agreed that Sian Massey and other female assistant referees "did not know the offside rule".

The remarks were made before Saturday's match between Wolves and Liverpool.

Barney Francis, managing director of Sky Sports, said: "Their comments were totally unacceptable."

Keys has said sorry to Massey, who has accepted the broadcaster's apology. She is due to run the line at Gresty Road on Tuesday night, as Crewe entertain Bradford in a League Two encounter.

However, new footage has emerged of Gray talking off-air with Sky Sports' pitchside reporter Andy Burton about the female assistant referee before the match between Wolves and Liverpool.

Sky News reported that the pair discussed Massey's appearance, while Gray asks: "What do women know about the offside rule?"

Gray and Keys have been the face of Sky Sports football coverage since the satellite broadcaster started showing English top-flight matches in 1992.

Speaking ahead of Saturday's Premier League game, Keys added: "Somebody better get down there and explain offside to her."

Gray quipped: "Women don't know the offside rule."

In a statement on Monday, Francis explained his decision for disciplining the pair.

He said: "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.

"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. We have dealt with this matter by taking immediate disciplinary action.

"As with any employee it would not be right to go into detail on those proceedings. However, they have been clearly warned about their behaviour and reminded of their responsibilities.

"In addition, Richard and Andy will not be involved in any way with tonight's live Monday Night Football."

The comments from Gray and Keys have been widely criticised in football circles.

England captain Rio Ferdinand said on Twitter: "I'm all for women refereeing in football, discrimination should not happen in our game at all ... prehistoric views if u think otherwise."

West Ham vice-chairman Karren Brady, one of the highest-profile women in football, said the comments made her "blood boil".

"I don't think any of the comments were anything other than [sexism]," Brady told BBC Radio 5 live.

Host Keys and pundit Gray also discussed comments made by Brady in the Sun newspaper about the levels of sexism in football.

"See charming Karren Brady this morning complaining about sexism? Yeah. Do me a favour love," stated Keys.

But Brady said she was more concerned by their comments about 25-year-old Massey's selection for the Premier League match.

Massey got a crucial call correct in the build-up to Liverpool's first goal and Brady, a former managing director of Birmingham City, felt the remarks showed a lack of respect.

"I just think it's unfair. 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 said.

"Everyone is entitled to a personal opinion but what really upsets me is the fact that only females in our industry are judged by their gender and that is categorically wrong.

These were tongue-in-cheek comments and we are blowing something enormously out of proportion here

Rachel Heyhoe-Flint

"I don't think any of the comments were anything other than [sexism]. You know, 'we'd better go down and tell her the offside rule'. I'm surprised they didn't say 'we'd better go down and tell her to put the kettle on'.

"I'm genuinely disappointed. It never would have occurred to me that they had those views, whether public or private.

"It almost makes it worse that they're speaking when the microphones are not on as opposed to when they are on, because [they have] never really had the brass neck to say it publicly, they would only say it privately."

Alan Leighton, national secretary of referees' union Prospect, echoed Brady's sentiments.

"I think the comments are unacceptable," he said. "We need to move on from that. Women are in football at the level they are at on merit. They are evaluated and assessed in the same way as men.

"It was unacceptable because it was suggesting women have no role in football and what are they doing there?

"That is offensive to women who are desperately trying to get into being referees, to women who play football and watch football."

Keys and Gray were also criticised by football's equality and inclusion campaign.

"This indicates a lack of understanding by individuals at the forefront of sports broadcasting who are revered and respected by many, and hints at wider issues about sexism in society," said Lord Herman Ouseley, chairman of Kick It Out.

Former England women's cricket captain Rachel Heyhoe-Flint was supportive of Keys and Gray, describing their exchange as "banter".

"I know Richard and Andy very well indeed," she told 5 live. "These were tongue-in-cheek comments and we are blowing something enormously out of proportion here."

The sexism debate even cropped up in Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish's news conference on Monday.

At the start, Dalglish jokingly asked Sky's male reporter whether he minded that there was a woman present.

The Scot's daughter Kelly, a former presenter on Sky Sports News, joked on her Twitter account: "Phew, am exhausted. Just read about something called 'the offside rule'. Too much for my tiny brain. Must be damaged from nail polish fumes."

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see also
Is sexism still rife in football?
24 Jan 11 |  Football
Wolves 0-3 Liverpool
22 Jan 11 |  Premier League

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