Kicking sexism out of soccer


Photo of soccer fans (Image by Wikimedia user Moazzam Brohi (cc:by))

This story was originally by PRI's The World. For more, listen to the audio above.

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Women don't understand sports. That's the cliche. And in the United Kingdom, the cliche relates to the offside rule in soccer.

In a scene from the film "Bend it Like Beckham" a husband explains the offside rule to his wife -- using condiments.

"The teriyaki sauce is the goalkeeper, the posh French mustard is the defender, the sea salt is the attacker, now when the ball is played forward, the sea salt has to be level with the mustard. Now watch and concentrate offside, onside, offside, onside."

The offside rule is not a particularly difficult concept. But it's become the subject of a scandal in Britain. Last Saturday night two television sportcasters were chatting with each other before a soccer match. During that off-air conversation, veteran sportscaster Andy Gray and his colleague Richard Keys made remarks about one of the linesmen, a female linesman.

"Somebody better get down there and explain offside to her," said Keys. Gray responds "yeah, can you believe that -- a female linesman?" And then both men agree that women don't understand the offside rule. That not-so-private conversation was made public.

And Andy Gray was -- well in soccer terms -- he was red-carded. Gray was fired for his remarks about assistant referee Sian Massey and other comments he had made in the workplace that were deemed to be inappropriate by his employer Sky Sports.

Richard Keys resigned but that hasn't been the end of it -- the men's comments have stirred up a debate in Britain about sexism in sports. Athletes, politicians and celebrities have been weighing in on the subject.

The two men have been called "dinosaurs," "stone-age" and "prehistoric." And one anti-discrimination group called "kick it out" produced a video of British women explaining the offside rule.

"A player is in the offside position if one, he is in his half of the field of play, two, he is level with the second last opponent, he level with last two opponents...."

As for the men at the center of the drama both have apologized to linesman, Sian Massey. Massey hasn't weighed in and she's withdrawn from officiating this week because of the overwhelming media attention. But during the game where the two sportscasters had made the offending remarks, there was a particularly tricky call for the referee.

Massey had to decide if a goal was valid or whether a player was -- you guessed it -- offside. The slow motion replay confirmed he was offside. Sian Massey made the right call.

PRI's "The World" is a one-hour, weekday radio news magazine offering a mix of news, features, interviews, and music from around the globe. "The World" is a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston. More about The World.