PM says it's 'ridiculous' to exclude women from football punditry, after Joey Barton row

Rishi Sunak has suggested it is “completely ridiculous” to exclude women from football punditry following comments by Joey Barton.

The Prime Minister said the profession should be “open to everybody” after comments made by former sportsman Joey Barton were widely condemned as misogynistic.

Barton has previously compared broadcasters Eni Aluko and Lucy Ward with serial killers Fred and Rose West and insisted “women shouldn’t be talking with any kind of authority in the men’s game”.

Aluko has said the abuse she suffered as a result of his social media posts had left her frightened to leave home.

Speaking to broadcasters on a visit to Hampshire, Sunak said: “I listen to all sorts of conversations and they’re all great. It shouldn’t really matter really, quite frankly.

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“I mean, what we care about is the quality of the commentating and… I don’t get to watch or listen to as much football as I’d like… but obviously, that’s completely ridiculous.

“I have two young girls and I’d love it if one of them wanted to be a football commentator when they grew up but I sadly think that it’s unlikely to happen. I’ve failed to get them into it and support Saints the way I do, but there you go. But yeah, of course it should be open to everybody.”

Barton had been the head coach of League One football club Bristol Rovers before he was sacked in October after the club hit a losing streak under his management.

Aluko, a former England striker, said she is taking legal action against Barton in response to his comments.

Former football manager Barton also likened Aluko to dictator Joseph Stalin and Pol Pot, who was responsible for the deaths of one million Cambodians.

In a 15-minute video posted on Instagram this week, Aluko warned online abuse could lead to a female broadcaster taking their own life.

“I’ve genuinely been scared this week. I didn’t leave my house until Friday and I’m now abroad," she said.

“I’ve felt under threat this week. I’ve felt like something is going to happen to me.

"And I don’t say that for anyone to feel sorry for me – I say that for people to understand the reality and the impact that hate speech has, the impact that racism has, the impact that sexism has, the impact that misogyny has on all of us females in the game, in sports broadcasting.

Barton responded to Aluko's video on X on Wednesday, saying: "I was waiting for the victim card to be played."

ITV criticised Barton for targeting Aluko and Ward with “vindictive remarks” following coverage of Crystal Palace’s FA Cup third-round tie with Everton on January 4.

While Aluko did not mention once-capped England midfielder Barton by name, in her video she accused him of being sexist, racist and misogynistic and of having a “violent history”.

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Aluko also referenced the late television presenter Caroline Flack, who died by suicide in 2020, when outlining her concerns.

She added using being "racist, sexist or misogynistic and threatening people" is against the law, and that she had spoken to lawyers on taking action.

She added: “My fear, actually, is that the next time this happens, if we don’t really put a stop to this, is that that girl or that woman kills herself.“I’m not being hyperbolic about that when I say that it’s happened. Caroline Flack, God rest her soul, killed herself, largely because of the online abuse that she was getting.“At what point are we going to understand that this needs to stop? Sexism, racism, misogyny is not an opinion. It’s not freedom of speech. It’s against the law. It’s as simple as that.”

Mr Barton also targeted England goalkepper Mary Earps in December saying he would score "100 out of 100 penalties" against her.

Earps was crowned Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY) and received her award as part of a prestigious ceremony in Manchester to celebrate some of the standout sporting moments of 2023.

Barton took to the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, to post an explicit rant about the Lionesses star.

He wrote: "I’d score 100 out of 100 penalties against Mary Earps. Any day of the week. Twice on a f*****g Sunday. #perspective."