LONDON — Hypocrisy is not as offensive as sexism and fortunately for those guilty of failing to practice what they preach it is not as obvious to the public.

The inevitable firing of Sky Sports pundit Andy Gray and the resignation after a suspension of his sidekick Richard Keys — jumping before he was pushed by common consent — has been front and back page news in England all week, underlining if nothing else the sheer magnitude of the not always beautiful game.

Gray and Keys were in trouble with Sky after making sexist, critical remarks, notably about assistant referee Sian Massey, a rare example of a match official making the news for getting a decision correct. Let the double standards begin . . .

One red top ran the headline “get ’em off” next to a photo of Massey taken from her Facebook page wearing a short party skirt.

The next day their headline was “Gray sacked for perving over TV girl” — yet on page three both days was a photo of a topless model, while in the classified ads section there were numbers to phone for, among other things, telephone sex lines. I’ll stop there.

Sky took the decision to terminate Gray for gross misconduct on Tuesday, a day later Keys resigned.

No doubt coincidentally, the station has only extremely attractive female reporters presenting the sports news. With respect to my male colleagues, such physical guidelines do not apply to the not-so-fairer sex.

And sexism is a two-way street. I have worked with girls who gave as good as they took in the innuendo stakes.

What few would dispute is that Gray is a first-class co-commentator and pundit, while Keys is an eloquent presenter, both becoming synonymous with Sky Sports as it revolutionized football presentation over the past 20 years.

Having ghost-written a column with Gray for Shoot magazine during the 1970s, I know him well as a friend, yet other football journalists say they find he has a superior attitude toward them because they never played the game (a common trait among ex-pros).

Keys, a newspaper reporter turned gamekeeper, has few friends in the media who claim he now looks down on them, which has been represented in the vitriolic newspaper coverage by those seeking revenge on him in print.

Significantly, Sky has not launched an internal investigation to find the mole who released the damning tapes to YouTube last Saturday evening and picked up by the Mail on Sunday (there would have been serious inquiries at the other Sunday newspapers) and subsequent video evidence.

Word is there are a number of suspects, which tells you something, as does the fact Sky appear less than concerned to root out the whistle blower.

While the pair’s remarks were made off air, they were in a television studio and every word they said was potentially heard by dozens, fed down the line from the stadium to Sky’s control center in west London.

Gray and Keys knew the walls had many ears and should have been far more discreet, not least because they must have been aware that they would not win any popularity competitions among the production team.

Perhaps they thought they were untouchable.

To add an extra dimension to the story, as if it were needed, Gray is taking action against the News of the World, owned by Sky supremo Rupert Murdoch, over a phone-tapping scandal. Unsurprisingly, some believe this was a factor in Gray’s red card.

As much as anything, Gray, as a so-called expert, should be embarrassed for accusing, with heavy sexist undertones, Massey of getting a crucial offside decision wrong as Liverpool scored against Wolves when she was spot on.

There are few men who, at one time or another, have not made some sort of sexist remark to varying degrees in private. Curse a female driver and her sex will invariably be uttered.

Yet when you are in a privileged position there must be an extra layer of discretion. With fame comes responsibility.

What Gray and Keys said was probably no more than many male supporters have said, which does not in any way excuse them, merely confirming that too many guys are stuck in a testosterone-filled stereotyping time-warp. We should have moved on from women having no place in football.

Sian Massey has reached the Premier League level because she has been assessed as being good enough by the authorities. There is no case for making any judgment on the basis of a person’s sex — as Gray and Keys did — color or creed.

Massey did not deserve or want the publicity brought to her which may, ultimately, have a negative effect on her performances.

The ex-Sky pair have a tattoo for life and have only themselves to blame, though the thought still occurs whether they would have been fired/resigned had someone, somewhere not put the knife in.

Previous sexist remarks subsequently made public had gone unpunished by Sky.

This does not excuse their behavior, but it took someone with a huge grudge to ensure action was taken against the offenders.

When the dust settles it’s a safe bet that there will be fewer sexist remarks in the football workplace, which has to be a positive.

* * * * *

MANCHESTER UNITED found it difficult to replace Peter Schmeichel after he retired in 1999 and will face a similar problem signing a long-term successor to Edwin van der Sar who will hang up his gloves this summer.

The Dutchman has been a colossus since joining United from Fulham six years ago, and Ferguson knows there is no time to groom his next goalkeeper, who must be ready-made for the demands of English football.

It will not be van der Sar’s understudy Thomas Kuszczak or Anders Lindegaard, the Denmark international signed from Norwegian club Aalesund in November.

In the ideal world, Ferguson would no doubt like to bring Pepe Reina to Old Trafford, but there is little history of Liverpool-United transfers.

Spain’s first choice, Iker Casillas, seems set to remain at Real Madrid all his career, though Ferguson has watched Atletico Madrid’s David de Gea, 20, another in the long line of outstanding Spanish goalkeepers.

Igor Akinfeev of CSKA Moscow is a leading candidate. At 24 he is already approaching a half century of caps for Russia and has impressed against United in the Champions League. Do not be surprised to see Akinfeev at Old Trafford next season.

Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for theLondon Daily Telegraph.

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