2 English commentators taken off air for sexism

Two of Britain's leading soccer commentators were reprimanded by their TV network and taken off the air Monday after making sexist remarks about two female game officials and a team executive.

Andy Gray and Richard Keys were disciplined Monday for derogatory comments about Sian Massey's suitability as a lineswoman for a Premier League game the commentators were working Saturday for Sky Sports.

Gray and Keys have been respected voices in soccer for the past 20 years. They also criticized the ability of former Premier League official Wendy Toms and a column written by West Ham executive Karren Brady in the Sun newspaper that day.

The men have privately apologized to their employer. Sky said the two have been warned and "reminded of their responsibilities." They will not work the show Monday night when Bolton hosts Chelsea in the Premier League.

"They (the comments) are inexcusable from anyone at Sky, regardless of their role or seniority," said Barney Francis, managing director of Sky Sports.

Keys later telephoned Massey to apologize, according to the group that represents game officials.

On Saturday, Gray and Keys were at Molineux Stadium for the Wolverhampton-Liverpool game. They thought their microphones were off when they questioned whether Massey knew the offside rule. Keys, who has worked for Sky since 1990, said he could "guarantee" Massey was going to make a big mistake.

Keys added that the game had "gone mad" by allowing a woman to run the line. Gray, a former Scotland striker who is Sky's leading commentator, made an abusive reference to Toms, saying she had been "hopeless".

Toms was the first female to officiate in the Premier League, as a lineswoman. She is no longer an active referee.

Keys then criticized Brady, who in her column had written about sexual discrimination in the soccer media.

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

Brady said Monday in the Guardian it was "absolutely abhorrent that gender is the only consideration when talking about female officials."

The comments were leaked to a British newspaper, leaving Gray and Keys open to a widespread criticism.

Piara Powar, executive director of Football Against Racism in Europe, a group working with European soccer's governing body to end discrimination in soccer, said the remarks were "medieval in tone" and demonstrated the "appalling and damaging sexist attitudes" that still existed in the sport.

Sports Minister Hugh Robertson added: "It is very disappointing to hear these comments at a time when we are trying to get more women participating and officiating in sport, particularly football."

The English Football Association gave its "wholehearted and continuing support" to female referees while England defender Rio Ferdinand was one of the many Twitter users to register his displeasure with Gray and Keys.

"What's wrong with a woman being an official in a football game? I'm cool with it," Ferdinand posted.

In fact, the 25-year-old Massey got perhaps the biggest call of the game correct. She judged Raul Meireles to be marginally onside when he ran onto a pass and sent the ball for Fernando Torres, who opened the scoring in the 36th minute in Liverpool's 3-0 victory.

Massey is one of 853 females officiating in English soccer, from grass-roots level up to the Premier League, the Football Association said. Amy Fearn last year became the first woman to referee a second-tier League Championship match.

The FA said all its female officials were "fantastic ambassadors" for soccer, adding the organization "will continue to offer every encouragement to all officials within the football family to progress to the highest levels possible."

Gray and Keys are not the first commentators caught making inappropriate remarks while thinking they were not on the air. In 2004, former Manchester United manager Ron Atkinson made a racial insult about Chelsea defender Marcel Desailly. Atkinson was forced to resign, calling his comments "obviously unacceptable."