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More than just a line was crossed

SO, Andy Gray and Richard Keys are said to be angry and embarrassed. What about poor Sian Massey, pictured yesterday on the front page of the 'Sun' dancing in a t-shirt and short skirt with the headline "Get 'em off" running down the length of her body?

To be surprised by what Gray and Keys said, you would have to be living in an alternative world. One where a woman in the public eye was not judged firstly by her looks, and where Page 3 didn't exist. Sky's sports coverage, though excellent, has always verged on the bombastic and in a laddish clubbable atmosphere things, it seems, have been allowed to fester as part of the bonhomie.

Sexism eats well, though erratically, in the sporting arena because it is largely dominated by one sex. I've watched a gang of otherwise lovely sports journalists walk upstairs behind a poor female reporter who was wearing trousers, giggling loudly and drooling wetly over her bottom. I've overheard many "I'll have 'er" conversations over the PR woman with the nice legs, while she was clearly within earshot. And I know what a handful of reporters think about me because they chewed the fat robustly to my then boyfriend without knowing that we were going out together.

Television cameras watching crowds at sporting events still linger longingly over the beautiful women in the bikinis not the beautiful young men with the noble faces. Drunken chanting at cricket grounds can still turn from banally benign to "get your baps out for the lads" in an ugly wink of an eye. Try explaining that to your daughter. But judging by the responses to Jacquelin Magnay's blog for the 'Daily Telegraph' yesterday, what gets people's goat is not such casual sexism but that women are encroaching on the last male bastion: football. A passion that has grown grotesque, self-inflated and greedy and should, many of the blogsphere seem to think, be reserved for men only.

There is, must be, a place for single-sex gatherings. But to think that men could put the barricades around this most popular and profitable of games is daft. Anyway, where would you draw the line. Could little girls watch?

Could they go on the pitch to be mascots? Would the line be puberty? What about little boys who were growing up with single mothers -- could the mother attend as a chaperone? The problem with football, which should be applauded for getting Massey to where she is now and for encouraging the grass-roots female game, is not that there are too many women involved but too few. Of the English FA's 102 council members, only two are women. On the FIFA executive there are no women. The FIFA's women's football committee chairman and deputy are resolutely male.

There are only a handful of regular female football journalists working in the UK. There is only one regular national football commentator in the country, the brave and able Jacqui Oatley. And crowds are still largely male.

Surely the whole point of any international sport like football is that you want to get as many different types of people involved as possible. You want as many different competent voices as you can get to ensure the thing doesn't stagnate with its own self-importance. See the FA executive if you want an example of how not to run things. It is not as if women are going to suddenly take over football, carpet the grass and de-nylon the kits.

The cold, late nights, long coach journeys, chanting and group mentality just don't do it for many, however uplifting and life-affirming they can be. But you must make it as welcoming to those who want to be part of it as you can. We bear the children you see, and we can be quite influential in what they grow up to be interested in. Call it women's intuition, but I don't think the likes of Keys and Gray will dominate now as they once did. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent