A new report by the Danish firm RunRepeat has revealed a worrying racial bias in European soccer commentary. And the difference in the way commentators describe black and white players is stark.
The report, carried out in partnership with the UK Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), shows disturbing findings about commentators’ implicit racial bias by studying 80 soccer matches from the 2019/20 season.
It shows that commentators praised white players as more intelligent, as being of higher quality, and harder working than players with a darker skin tone. Non-white players were more likely to receive criticism and were significantly more likely to be reduced to their physical characteristics or athletic merits — such as pace and power — than players with a lighter skin tone.
That’s not all. White players, according to the study, were more likely to be credited with an admirable work ethic. While black players’ performances, even when stellar, were more likely to be attributed to a burst of good form.
The first of its kind, the study analyzed 2,073 statements from English-language commentators in 80 soccer matches from across four of Europe’s top leagues (UK, Spain, France, Italy), with comments aimed at 643 unique players of various races and skin tones. It also revealed that only about 5% of the commentators and co-commentators were from a black, asian or a minority ethnic background.
“The continuous praise for players with lighter skin tone for their skill level, leadership and cognitive abilities combined with the continuous criticism for players with darker skin tone is likely to influence the perception of the soccer watching public,” RunRepeat shared.
Jason Lee, the P.F.A.’s equalities education executive, also commented on the effect these biases have on the trajectories of players’ careers. “It’s important to consider how far-reaching those perceptions can be and how they impact footballers even once they finish their playing career. If a player has aspirations of becoming a coach or manager, is an unfair advantage given to players that commentators regularly refer to as intelligent and industrious, when those views appear to be a result of racial bias?”
Head over to RunRepeat to read the full report.