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Kevin Myers: Grisly pseudo-feminist circus being played out in Murdoch's news arena is beyond all parody

The first intelligent observations that I've read since the eruption of the Sian Massey sexism-in-football affair came from my colleague Aidan O'Hara -- perhaps helped by the fact that A) he knows what he's talking about and B) is not frightened by the right-on journalistic mob to deal with the issue of women referees.

He noted -- quite rightly -- that the youngest English referee in the game, Stuart Atwell, aged 26, has come in for unrelenting criticism on ageist grounds, though none of the sanctimonious media mob has leapt in to defend him. And we know why: he is a male, and there's no percentage in defending a male in our current culture unless he is gay or black or a Traveller (note the legally mandatory capital letter).

That this grisly pseudo-feminist circus is being played out in Rupert Murdoch's News International/News Corps arena is beyond all parody. After all, NI owns 'The Sun', which gave western civilisation the page-three models. I am also indebted to Aidan for his recording this deathless introduction by Kay Burley on Sky News: "Joining me now to discuss sexism in sport is former WAG Lizzie Cundy."

All irony, all satire, all proper perspective, perish in the moral inversions that are required to introduce a woman -- whose status as an observer depends entirely on her once having been a sexual partner of a footballer -- as an authority on sexism in soccer.

But either that subtlety was above the grasp of the Sky News team, or the commercial requirements of News International/News Corps obliged it to add a flaming WAG to the inferno consuming the broadcasting careers of Andy Gray and Richard Keys.

Either way, the underlying issue is not "equality". Murdoch's News Corps is trying to persuade the British government to allow it to buy up BSkyB, an ambition that the minister formerly responsible for supervising such matters, Vince Cable, was trying to block. But he lost his job after he'd privately boasted to an undercover reporter that he was at war with BSkyB. Who was the journalist concerned? A burly middle-aged male? No: a winsome young woman, whom the ageing Cable was clearly trying to impress. (Yes, we men are often a sad and pathetic sex). Responsibility for the British government decision was then transferred to a Jeremy Hunt, whose surname BBC Radio 4 then promptly mispronounced before abjectly apologising -- as if there was not already enough farce in a story which features a sexism-vigilante called Cundy.

But Murdoch is determined to show that he's now a Good Boy -- which is probably why his executives acted so ruthlessly after having the good fortune to hear of an entirely private conversation between two Sky Sports presenters, Gray and Keys, casting doubt on the suitability of women referees. It was private. It was not broadcast. Nor did their match commentary reflect their reservations or their bigotries. Yet their careers have now been destroyed, as other journalists have gathered round their prostrate forms to supply the finishing touches with some steel-capped booted sanctimony.

"Sexist rant" was the most frequently used term by these lynch-mob hacks, even in the 'Telegraph', though usually without acknowledging that the offending remarks were entirely private. No doubt these hacks had a weather-eye on future career prospects in one of Rupert Murdoch's many media outlets. Writing in Murdoch's 'The Sunday Times', Hugh McIlvanney denounced "crudely dismissive talk about women". He sniffed: "At its most offensive, when some self-appointed authority on sexual attractiveness sneers about 'scrubbers' and 'dogs', it rouses the blood."

Good. But apart from putting himself on the high moral ground, what's the relevance of that? The two men didn't remotely use such language: nonetheless, McIlvanney successfully muddied the waters with irrelevant self-serving piety. As for "self-appointed": if McIlvanney, a sports writer, is not himself a self-appointed moraliser on sexual matters, then what is he? And has he NEVER uttered remarks in private that he would prefer never to be heard in public?

Two gender-language rulebooks now exist. Thus we got President McAleese's PUBLIC declaration that our economic collapse was "testosterone-driven". Meanwhile, British Labour shadow cabinet politician Harriet Harman PUBLICLY declared that the economic collapse wouldn't have occurred if the Lehman Brothers had been the Lehman Sisters. But what would happen to any male politician who made comparable reflections about women? We know the fate of Gray and Keys for their entirely PRIVATE remarks. Whatever this is, it is not "equality".

Aidan also reminded us what a tragedy this affair has been for poor Sian Massey, who has behaved with great dignity throughout, but hasn't been seen on a pitch since. He added that football league pitches are verbally abusive places. If there's to be real equality, women officials will have to get used to hearing the usual chants, as in: "The referee's a wanker", or yes, even a Jeremy Hunt.

Anyway, few women are physically capable of becoming top-drawer match officials. A premiership referee might run eight miles in a match. Just nine of the top 100 in the Raheny five-mile race last weekend were women, but of the last 100 home, 72 were. Sorry, girls.

Irish Independent