Sergio Agüero crosses boundaries with assistant referee exchange

The Sergio Agüero/Sian Massey-Ellis grab/touch/pull “incident” on Saturday night is one which has had this observer conflicted.

Unsurprisingly, when it happened, social media exploded. Needless to say, insults were exchanged between many people if their opinions did not align. For some it was “a nothing incident, get over yourselves, focus on an actual issue that merits attention” or “so you want equal rights for women but only when it suits you” while for others the incident was “patronising and degrading” and a few even labelled it as (sexual) assault.

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One of the common viewpoints from the side that saw it as a non-issue was:

If this (the neck grab/touch/pull) happened to a male official then there’d be nothing made of it.

Other experienced football people argued that in Sunday League football players touch/handle officials all the time and nothing is said or done about it. However, both Agüero and Massey-Ellis were at work when the incident happened on Saturday evening. Would it be acceptable for a male worker to handle a female worker the way Agüero did in the office on a Monday morning? Of course not.

A football pitch is of course very different to a “typical” workplace such as an office, but there are still certain bounds of decency. While there is an argument that what Agüero did to Massey-Ellis wasn’t a “big deal”, there is certainly an argument that his intentions weren’t pleasant.

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola’s comments after the match didn’t help the situation either. The Spaniard completely dismissed the incident saying:

Come on guys, Sergio is the nicest person I ever met in my life. Look for problems in other situations not in this one.

While Agüero has been seen reacting boisterously and physically with male match officials in the past and there was no premeditated malice of intent on the Argentine’s part on Saturday night, he should at least have come out and made some sort of an explanation for his actions and possibly an apology. His silence has been deafening, however. Refereeing body the Professional Game Match Officials (PGMOL) having reviewed the incident confirmed on Monday that he would face no punishment as they deemed the incident was “not aggressive or threatening.”

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It should also be noted however that no action was taken against Agüero either at the time of the incident (for an incident that according to the rulebook was at the very least a yellow card offence) or after the match meaning that Massey-Ellis didn’t report the incident to referee Chris Kavanagh. What are her thoughts on the incident? Perhaps she thinks it was a something-of-nothing incident. Perhaps she doesn’t though and perhaps she has kept quiet because she doesn’t want to be singling herself out again in an area of her life where she is already in the tiny minority, i.e. a woman in a man’s game.

Perhaps Massey-Ellis’ lack of comment on the issue is because she is aware that she would get a lot of vitriol in reply and simply doesn’t want to deal with that aggro. From monitoring a few social media feeds of women involved in the game who have spoken out about the incident, I have read reams of derogatory, insulting and offensive messages in reply including: “Shut the fuck up he didn’t touch anyone inappropriately. Fucking older women making big deals about this go get you a man you divorced piece of shit” and “You’re an attention seeking brainless idiot” among the litany of diatribes.

I hate comparing sports and I generally avoid doing so but football could learn more than a thing or two from the way rugby players treat match officials in their code. If an incident similar to the Agüero/Massey-Ellis incident (or any of a myriad of other highly confrontational footballing incidents from male footballers to male match officials which generally go unpunished, with a small number of exceptions) happened on a rugby pitch, the player committing the offence would be instantly red carded, cited, and likely have faced a lengthy ban.

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