More sexism in professional sport – who knew?

// 23 January 2011

A touch of context here – those of you who know me might already know that much of my time is spent working as a sports journalist, and I’m also writing my PhD thesis on female sports fandom. So it’s not unusual to find me watching football matches at the weekend, and that’s exactly what I did yesterday, watching Wolves v Liverpool.

What was a touch unusual was the fact that one of the officials in this game was a 25-year-old woman, Sian Massey, and she made the crucial decision to keep her flag down, permitting Liverpool’s Raul Meireles to play the ball through to the on-running Fernando Torres, who put the ball in the back of the net for his side’s first goal.

I was going to do a quick blog about this anyway, but then my dad, bless him, texted me this morning, saying that he thought Massey had had a better game than nine out of ten male assistant referees. Now, my dad is a lovely man. He was the one who took me to football as a kid, and introduced me to cricket and rugby, and it’s probably down to him that I’m in the job I’m in now. But his text was very similar to lots of male pundits’ views – comparing her performance to the men, when surely an assistant referee should be judged on their decisions rather than their sex. (I told my dad that it wasn’t his fault, he’s imbued with the sexist patriarchal binaries that mean that he can’t avoid comparing her to the men, but I’m not sure he appreciated it.)

Still, praising her (and there are lots of blogs around this morning commenting on what a great development it is to see female officials in the Premier League) is better than the obnoxious comments from Sky Sports’ Richard Keys and Andy Gray, who (unaware they could be heard) suggested pre-match that someone should go and explain the offside law to Massey because “women don’t know the offside rule” (it’s a LAW, Gray, not a RULE, you fool); and criticised West Ham vice-chairman Karren Brady for complaining about sexism in football, with Keys uttering the immortal words: “Did you hear charming Karren Brady this morning complaining about sexism? Do me a favour, love.”

Well, on the plus side, at least Keys has made Brady’s point for her; and it certainly won’t have been the first time Massey has heard the “women can’t understand offside!” comment. On the downside, while the football authorities continue to refuse to deal with sexism as a problem, there is no way prevailing attitudes will change.

Comments From You

Wilko Wilkes // Posted 23 January 2011 at 11:36 am

Excellent post as usual. It’s mad how hard it is to get away from comparing!

Lianne // Posted 23 January 2011 at 12:19 pm

This is so brilliant, seeing misogynist idiots making fools of themselves. I’m glad they’ve been caught out, and that it seems even the Daily Fail recognises that it’s unacceptable.

Being a female football fan is near-impossible sometimes! Your PhD sounds amazing, any chance you could share a summary of your findings with us when you’re done? Would love to hear what studies have been done on the phenomenon =)

Paul Frame // Posted 23 January 2011 at 1:31 pm

Coming on the back of John Etheridge’s tweet ( ) about the standard of women’s cricket, this has shown up just how much still needs to change.

Lord Selvey (Guardian cricket correspondent) has pointed out quite rightly that people should be judged on performance, not by comparing their performances to the other Gender ( &

Nathan // Posted 24 January 2011 at 3:10 am

I find this overly defensive. In what has been a traditionally male-officiated sport it is not the slightest bit unreasonable for your father to indicate that this female match official performed well in comparison to her male counterparts. When some people (such as Andy Gray) make condescending remarks based on her gender one might well take umbridge but I think your father’s comments are well made.

Qubit // Posted 24 January 2011 at 10:19 am

Nathan, while I disagree with your point I think your comment was done very well. The comment was clear, and the point well made and expressed in language that was easily understandable rather than using text speak. You also managed to avoid being overly offensive in your reply or resorting to stereotypes. I’d say it was as good as many of the comments posted by women.

Sarah // Posted 24 January 2011 at 12:22 pm

Nicely done, Qubit. It’s probably the first time I’ve said the phrase ‘BACK OF THE NET!’ out loud in response to a comment…

Antigone // Posted 24 January 2011 at 1:57 pm

I’m disappointed in Keys and Gray. What self-respecting sexists forget to tag on the argument that it’s just evolution?

Oh well, there’s always a next time.

Laura // Posted 25 January 2011 at 9:40 pm

Gray’s been sacked, whoop!

periwinkle // Posted 25 January 2011 at 11:54 pm

Wow, that’s great news, Laura!

As a football enthusiast, it’s quite stark how racism is universally condemned by the football community (in Britain at least), while, bizarrely, sexism (and also homophobia) are thought to be lesser offences. This is a heartening development though; kudos to Sky and also to (England captain) Rio Ferdinand for describing the comments as “prehistoric”.

periwinkle // Posted 26 January 2011 at 10:41 am

Interesting discussion on Women’s Hour (BBC Radio 4, 10-11am, first 20 minutes of the program), should be available to listen again before long. (If anyone more technologically capable than me wants to make a link, that would be great.)

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