herald

Wednesday 22 August 2018

Sexism not the only sin

Fallen Sky icons were at least never guilty of their smug rivals' complacency

Who would have guessed that the first and second of television punditry's deadly sins would be sexism and boorishness?

Complacency and ignorance had seemed far more likely catalysts to force a rethink in the way that football is covered on British television, but maybe that will come.

There is no room in any workplace for the kind of attitudes demonstrated by leaked clips of Richard Keys and Andy Gray, which have led to their departures from the Sky Sports coverage that they had fronted for so long.

Their heavyweight voices will be missed by some -- certainly not all -- but, to judge from the public reaction to this week's controversy, they will not be lamented for long.

In many ways, it is regrettable. Keys, whatever his personality traits, has always been a highly competent presenter. Gray, whatever his condescending attitudes to those (male, let alone female) who have not played the game, was and is an outstanding co-commentator. In terms of talent and professionalism, at least when the cameras were rolling, they are, or were, two of the best.

If there is an upside to this whole sorry affair -- quite apart from the sense of release evidently felt by their colleagues past and present -- it is the opportunity for Sky Sports to freshen up its TV coverage.

It is the channel that revolutionised football coverage in the inaugural Premier League season of 1992-93 but, while energetic in comparison to the lethargy induced by the BBC's Match of the Day sofa, it has not matched the sophistication or insight of its own cricket coverage.

Long before he aired views that were as welcome as halitosis, Gray was a breath of fresh air, much like Jimmy Hill had been a generation earlier.

Gray took a piece of action and deconstructed it, pointing out how the centre forward had dragged his marker out of position and how his team-mate had been able to exploit the space behind.

It was the kind of stuff we thought we knew, but, slowed down and shown from a variety of angles, it enhanced our understanding.

The problem with informing your audience, rather than merely entertaining it, is that the more they find out, the more they want to know.

And if the football-watching public, who were restricted to irregular helpings of live action during the 1980s, were happy in 1992 simply to have Gray point out why Alan Shearer had aimed across the goalkeeper rather than for the gap at the near post, they are no longer.

If the conversation between Keys and Gray about Sian Massey, the female assistant referee, was the most offensive heard this season, there is also a strong contender for the second.

It is a statement uttered by Shearer in September about Hatem Ben Arfa, of Newcastle United, of whom the former England captain declared that nobody really knew anything.

Shearer's comment caused anger not only because it insulted the audience -- a reasonable proportion of whom will have known plenty about a player who had represented France and appeared regularly in the Champions League -- but because it exposed a glaring lack of knowledge in a man whose living is to inform the viewers.



Ignorance

Wilful ignorance had been a common complaint about the BBC's coverage of last summer's World Cup finals.

Gray, at least, was serious about his job with Sky, as is Jamie Redknapp, who views his responsibilities as more than just a well-paid way to fill his Sunday afternoons.

A lot of them -- and not just Shearer -- seem to turn up with a view of, "Who are we watching today, then?" before retreating into discourse about referees who "might know the rules but don't know the game".

Even if, like many a long-serving broadcaster, he had entered the realm of self-parody, Gray remained one of the best.

There is no room in any workplace for neanderthal views. But if there is a sense of smugness in the Match of the Day studio and elsewhere, it's misplaced.

Complacency, whether personal or professional, has afflicted football coverage for too long.

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