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Study finds racial bias in football commentary

Posted: Friday, July 3, 2020. 4:23 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: Belize has apparently been dragged, if only tangentially, into the ongoing debate over structural racism and bias – in this case of football commentary on television.

Opinion writer for the South China Morning Post Jonathan White cites a BBC Radio 4 comedy, John Finnemore’s Souvenir Programme, where two football commentators describe the action from a penalty shoot-out defining each participant by their nationalities.

The sketch described Northern European players as clinical and efficient; their Italian and South American counterparts as flamboyant and passionate. Belize is somewhere in the middle as the commentators describe the taking of a penalty (by Deon McCauley perhaps?) “with clinical flamboyance” that lands in the back of the net. The punchline: “I ask you, can you get any more Belizean than that?”

But behind the jokes, a timely study from Danish research firm RunRepeat, in partnership with the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), finds that in commentary statements from top broadcasters covering major European football leagues – English Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, Italy’s Serie A and France’s Ligue 1 – “When talking about intelligence, versatility and quality, commentators praise players with lighter skin tone and criticise players with darker skin tone,” the report said.

Lighter-skinned players were more praised for their intelligence (62.6 per cent) while darker-skinned players were more criticized (63.33 per cent).

“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,” PFA Equalities Executive (and former Nottingham Forest striker) Jason Lee said.

To deal with this there are two things that we need, White said: more studies into the extent of the problem and, more importantly, more diversity in the commentary box.

The study noted that 5 percent of the commentators and co-commentators were from a BAME (Black and Minority Ethnic) background.

“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 when they finish their playing career,” Lee said.

“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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