Groundbreaking PFA research shows racial bias in football commentary

Groundbreaking research for the PFA has revealed a racial bias in football commentary.

In association with the PFA, RunRepeat conducted a study on racial bias within football commentary for the first time to understand if there is a difference in the way that commentators talk about players of different skin tones.

80 games from the 2019/20 season were reviewed from four of Europe’s top leagues: Italian Serie A, Spanish La Liga, French Ligue 1, and the English Premier League. The study analysed 2,074 statements across these matches from commentators speaking in English and working for UK, USA and Canadian media outlets, where they discussed 643 unique players of various skin tones.

The findings showed bias from commentators who praised players with lighter skin tones as more intelligent, higher quality and harder working than players with darker skin tones. Players with darker skin tones were significantly more likely to be reduced to their physical characteristics or athletic abilities – namely pace and power – than those with lighter skin tones.

When commentators talked about intelligence:

  • 62.60% of praise was aimed at players with a lighter skin tone.
  • 63.33% of criticism was aimed at players with a darker skin tone.

When commentators were talking about power, they were:

  • 6.59 times more likely to be talking about players with a darker skin tone.
  • 3.38 times more likely to be talking about players with a darker skin tone when discussing speed.

When commentators talk about work ethic:

  • 60.40% of praise was aimed at players with a lighter skin tone.

PFA equalities executive Jason Lee said: “Players have been unified in their support of the Black Lives Matter movement, sending a strong message about equality.  However, the players themselves still have to navigate systemically racist structures, despite their significant platforms and professional success. This racial bias study makes the nuances of that structure apparent.

“We now need everyone in football, including commentators and broadcasters, to consider the part they play in furthering implicit bias towards people with darker skin tones. This must be the moment that we all, collectively, begin to address deep-rooted racial stereotypes.

“We understand that the commentators may not have intended to further racial stereotypes by sharing their opinions about a player’s intelligence or physical attributes during a game. However, the narrative of black people’s primary value laying in their physicality and not their intelligence dates back to attitudes modern society is determined to eradicate. While this type of unconscious prejudice has become less overt, even subtle racial bias is damaging, continues a legacy of pain and has long-reaching societal consequences.

“To address the real impact of structural racism, we have to acknowledge and address racial bias. This study shows an evident bias in how we describe the attributes of footballers based on their skin colour.

“Commentators help shape the perception we hold of each player, deepening any racial bias already held by the viewer. 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/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?”

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