Saturday, 29 January 2011

The innocent victim of the Sky sexism row

I'm sure you've read blogs, columns and articles aplenty about the sexism row that led to Andy Gray's dismissal and Richard Keys' resignation from Sky. We all have an opinion on whether they should have been made to go (cos believe it, the words mean nothing - I suspect Keys got the nod to go), and I don't want to focus on that in this post.

Because, in the middle of it all, lies one innocent victim of all this.

That person is Sian Massey, the assistant referee officiating at the Wolves v Liverpool match, who ruled Fernando Torres correctly onside for Liverpool's opening goal, thus displaying her knowledge of the offside rule, something that Gray and Keys had questioned in off-air comments before the game. It was her second match in the Premier League. She'd worked her way up to this and to be running the line at a Premier League match is pretty close to the top of the pile - although she has officiated in international matches in women's football. She turned professional only last year, leaving her other job as a school teacher, and obviously did a good job at her first Premier League match, at Sunderland v Chelsea over the Christmas period.

I'm sure she was offended and upset when she heard about the remarks. What I don't think she could have predicted was the negative effect that it was going to have on her. She received apologies from the two men - if you believe Richard Keys, he rang her and apologised to her personally. I suspect she thought that might be the end of it.

If she did believe that, she was wrong. The PGMOB (Professional Game Match Officials Board) withdrew her from the next match she was due to referee, a League 2 game between Crewe Alexandra and Bradford City. The PGMOB said it was because they believed the attention on her would detract from the match itself. But then, yesterday lunchtime, the PGMOB withdrew her again from a Conference North match between Corby Town and Eastwood Town. This time, the PGMOB, in its infinite wisdom, withdrew her a second time because of the large number of requests for access from the media. In other words, the press want to be there when she next runs the line.

So, two guys lose their jobs for making these remarks and this poor woman, who has done nothing wrong, is having her career negatively impacted as a result. Let's be clear about this - whenever she returns to refereeing, there's going to be a media scrum. That, I'm afraid, is inevitable. Whether it is now, in one week, or in one month, they will be there and yes, she will be under scrutiny. For that game. By denying the press their photo opportunity, the PGMOB are making things worse. It's creating more of a frenzy. When will they realise that they can't play the media the way they want to? They will have, to some extent, dance to the tune of the media for a little while, give them what they crave - and then they will lose interest. After all, they can't follow Sian Massey around in that sort of number forever but I believe they won't stop until they get that moment.

How many more matches are they going to "withdraw" her from? I'm assuming she's lost out on two lots of match fees so her main source of income is being denied to her. For being a woman, for doing nothing wrong. How long do the PGMOB seriously think they can go on withdrawing her?

I learned from this post that there are only 850 women out of 26,000 active match officials in England. I make that about 3%. I guess that women will probably never achieve parity due to the smaller numbers of women regularly involved in football but the PGMOB need more women to train and work their way up through the ranks like Sian Massey has. If they are to do that, they need to be seen to be supportive of their match officials across all genders, races and creeds. I believe, in this case, they should be helping her deal with the media madness. I accept they might believe that they are protecting her but they are not. Actually, I bet they don't think that way - they appear more bothered about how football looks and how it might create bad press for them. Believe me, that's already happening. After all, the Corby manager was quoted as saying that he didn't mind if it was a "man, woman or elephant" refereeing as long as they did it properly. Clubs appear supportive (although I accept that Corby might have struggled to accommodate all the media requesting access - but they could have restricted access to a small number), I suspect her colleagues are supportive, and I suspect most of the general public are too.

If the PGMOB don't handle this the right way, and they have not covered themselves in glory thus far, they could lose Sian Massey. I would certainly not stick around in a job where I didn't feel I was supported, particularly if I had not done anything wrong - in fact, I did just that once. Football would lose a talented referee and gawd knows they struggle to get anyone to be referees these days. I believe it would also send out the message that being different makes you a liability, even if you do your job well and that when your difference becomes part of the story, your employers aren't prepared to back your ability and allow you to continue. I mean, as someone pointed out to me on Twitter yesterday, did they withdraw Howard Webb after Ryan Babel tweeted a picture of him in a Manchester United shirt? No, they did not.

I really hope that it doesn't come to it. I hope that the PGMOB gets over itself soon, and allows Sian Massey to get back on the pitch, or rather along the edge of it. Accepting there will be a media scrum is an important part of that - it will happen come what may. It's sinful that, in withdrawing her, they have almost allowed the sexists to win. After all, the dinosaurs out there - possibly including the two that made the remarks in the first place - didn't want her there in the first place.

By keeping her from doing her job, they are giving the sexists exactly what they want. No women on the pitch, that's progress. It gives the Kick It Out campaign, which is funded by the governing bodies of football, a hollow ring to its messages.

Sian Massey has been treated pretty disgracefully all round. I hope she gets support from the right people soon, as well as from the rest of us.
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