PLENTY going on in football this week with the fourth round of the FA Cup and the final few days of the mid-season transfer window, but the big talking point has been the row over sexist comments made by two Sky TV pundits about female officials.

The two men concerned, presenter Richard Keys and ex-footballer Andy Gray, have now both left Sky but the affair has brought the issue of sexual discrimination to the forefront.  The men, who were reporting on Sky’s coverage of the Wolves v Liverpool Premier League game made derogatory remarks about assistant referee Sian Massey’s ability to do her job because she was a woman, suggesting that she  “did not know the offside rule”. Their comments were made off-air but they were miked up and their opinions soon became public knowledge.

The pair were initially suspended before further allegations of sexist behaviour led to Gray being sacked by the broadcaster, while Keys subsequently resigned.
Ironically Massey made a crucial offside decision during the game which replays showed to be spot-on.
The unfortunate side effect on the media storm was that Massey was pulled from officiating at two successive matches because her presence would attract  too much attention.

She was due to be an official at the Crewe v Bradford League Two game last Tuesday but was withdrawn.
And on Saturday Massey was expected to referee at the Blue Square Bet North match between Corby Town and Eastwood but once again she has missed out.
A spokesman for referees’ body, the  Professional Game Match Officials group, said: “The focus needs to be on the match not the officials. It would be unfair on the clubs.”

Apparently Corby had reported a huge demand for access by television crews after Massey was put in charge of the game.
Let’s hope once the media fuss dies down she can get back to doing her job away from the spotlight.
The coach of the England Women’s football team, Hope Powell, reckons that the controversy has helped the women’s game.
Powell told BBC Sport: “Obviously it’s a shame, you don’t want to hear those sort of comments. But to flip it on its head, we’ve had really good publicity this week.”

She went on: “Sian earned the right to be there and run that line. More importantly she made some really fantastic calls, which can only be good for women in the game.”   And new research has also revealed that women footballers are also tougher than their male counterparts!  According to scientists at the University of West England  (UWE) in Bristol,  women are more robust due to psychological and sociological factors which affect their attitude to pain, injury and risk.

A team at the UWE studied players including members of the England women’s team.  Sociologist John Bird said that women had an ethos of “toughing it out”.

“They believe they have to ignore injuries, for example, to keep their place on the team or to support the team,” said Mr Bird.  “They come to see pain and injury as an ‘occupational hazard’.”

Finally, back to the men’s game, how fantastic that tiny non-league side Crawley Town have been drawn away to the mighty Manchester United in the fifth round of the FA Cup.  They’ll probably  get hammered but their bank balance will get a hefty boost. What a delight it would be if the FA decided to have the game refereed by a woman!