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Jan 24, 2011

Sky drops Gray and Keys after outcry

Sky Sports presenter Richard Keys and pundit Andy Gray were both dropped from the channel's coverage of Chelsea's Premier League game against Bolton on Monday night following the sexism row that has swamped the pair.

Sky duo in hot water

• Fifth Official: Humble pie for Sky

Keys has telephoned assistant referee Sian Massey to apologise for his off-air remarks about her at the weekend, a Professional Game Match Officials spokesman confirmed.

The PGMO confirmed that Keys had telephoned Massey. She accepted the apology and is now keen to move on from the matter, and will be an assistant at the League Two match between Crewe and Bradford on Tuesday night.

Controversy arose after the Mail on Sunday was passed a recording of an off-air discussion the two men held during Saturday's game between Wolves and Liverpool, about female official Sian Massey. Keys was recorded as saying "somebody better get down there and explain offside to her", while Gray agreed, saying of female officials: "they probably don't know the offside rule".

Gray further criticised former Premier League assistant referee Wendy Toms and Keys took issue with a column by Karren Brady in Saturday's Sun in which she commented on the level of sexism in the game. Keys said: "See charming Karren Brady this morning complaining about sexism? Yeah. Do me a favour, love."

Their comments have generated plenty of reaction with Sports Minister Hugh Robertson even weighing into the debate when saying he was "disappointed to hear these comments at a time when we are trying to get more women participating in football."

Sky Sports has now responded to the outcry provoked by the pair's comments by dropping them from the coverage of Monday night's game at the Reebok Stadium.

Barney Francis, managing director of Sky Sports, said: "It has been made clear to each of them that their comments were totally unacceptable. I have spoken directly to both Richard Keys and Andy Gray this morning.

"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."

Massey made a good call when adjudging Raul Meireles was onside in the build-up to Liverpool's first goal at Molineux, and the FA has issued a statement backing its female officials.

The statement read: "The FA has made real strides in encouraging both male and female match officials to enter the game at every level, and will continue to offer every encouragement to all officials within the football family to progress to the highest levels possible.

"We are proud to have some of the world's best match officials, both male and female. Overall the number of female referees in England (Levels 1-8) stands at 853 and climbing, and all of our female match officials act as fantastic ambassadors for the game. They have our wholehearted and continuing support."

Referees body Professional Game Match Officials issued a statement from general manager Mike Riley which read: "All PGMO referees and assistant referees are appointed on merit and ability. They are assessed on their performances only."

On Monday, Brady responded to the controversy when telling the BBC: "It makes my blood boil, if I'm absolutely honest. Forget myself for a second, because what was said about me is a personal opinion and everyone is entitled to that. What really upsets me is the fact only females in our industry are judged by their gender. And that is categorically wrong.

"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. I have heard it and I don't believe it is just banter.''

England captain Rio Ferdinand has also come out to support Massey on his Twitter account, saying: "What's wrong with a woman being an official in a football game? I'm cool with it. All that counts is do they get the decisions right.

"I'm all for women refereeing in football, discrimination should not happen in our game at all...prehistoric views if you think otherwise."

FIFA-listed referee Morag Pirie has told the duo to ''get with the times'' as she urged women not to be discouraged from getting involved in the game.

''That attitude you think would have gone out years ago, but it's obviously still there,'' she said. ''How can that sort of attitude encourage more women to take up refereeing?

''You need encouragement for women and men to do these sports. They should try it themselves and see what it's like. It's a hard enough job as it is. Some men need to get with the times. More women are doing jobs that men used to do and are being judged on their ability and skills.

''If there are girls out there who want to take it up then they should. Men get negative comments as well, you just need to block them out.''

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