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PFA study reveals racial bias in football commentary

A PFA study conducted alongside Danish Company RunRepeat has identified that there is a racial bias in football commentary.

In total, 80 games were reviewed from 2019/20 season across four of Europe’s biggest leagues including: The Premier League, La Liga, Serie A and Ligue 1, with 2,074 statements taken from commentators who were speaking in English and working for media outlets from the UK, USA and Canada. The largest of its kind in the English language, the study uncovered evidence of systemic bias within football commentary.

The study exposes how the surveyed 643 players, all with varying skin tones, were spoken about and described differently from one another, with certain characteristics being praised more between footballers of differing skin tones. For example, players of a lighter skin tone were found to be commended on their quality, hard-working nature and intelligence as opposed to players with a darker skin tone finding themselves being depicted as physically and athletically more capable.

Furthermore, the study revealed percentages that provides evidence of a racial bias, one of them being that 63.33 per cent of criticism that is aimed at a players intelligence on the pitch was targeted towards players of a darker skin tone. Whilst discussing players’ work ethics, commentators would be describing players of a lighter skin tone 60.4 per cent of the time. Around two-thirds of the comments discussing the quality of play was about lighter skin toned players contrasted with 67.57 per cent of negative comments aimed at darker skin toned players.

This study has brought to light concerning details about how some of the top footballing commentators across Europe are responsible of a racial bias in their description of players, whether this is intentional or not.

Danny McLoughlin, the research director at RunRepeat and lead researcher on this study, believes that football commentary is a “prism for everyone who watches football” and could be of influence to fans who are watching the games and taking those opinions of darker skin toned players, which are evidently degrading of their intelligence and work ethic, into conversations outside of the match, that could have a detrimental impact on a player.

The PFA Equalities Executive, Jason Lee, has demanded that change has to be carried out by commentators in order to resolve this systemic issue.

“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.

“If you haven’t got people to bounce ideas off and to listen to what’s being said, and you haven’t got an open ear, how are you going to understand that what you’re doing is offending people if nobody is there challenging you and telling you, ‘That’s not right.’”

Another study focusing on the issue of ‘stacking’, first identified in American Football, is being planned to find why many captains armbands are handed to white players.

Currently, the PFA, Premier League and EFL have launched a coach placement scheme where it is hoped that more BAME players finishing their careers can evolve into coaching roles if they wish. The programme will be funded by both the PFA and Premier League, beginning in the 2020/21 season.

Darren Moore, the current Doncaster Rovers manager and Chair of the Premier League’s Black Participants’ Advisory Group, believes that this programme is a major step forward for the BAME community in football.

“This is a critical time for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic coaches,” Moore said. “We all know and agree that the diversity of coaches and managers must increase, and this placement scheme represents a positive step.

“There are lots of roles in the Academy system all the way through to First Team and young coaches can slot in at different points to begin that journey. We need to have the right structures and people in place to develop their careers.

“I know from my own experiences the value of strong support throughout the coaching journey, which is why I, alongside other senior coaches and former players, will be drawing on our collective expertise to provide guidance to those making the transition into coaching and working in the professional environment.”

Author: Jake Wilkin