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New Study Finds Significant Racial Bias in English Soccer Commentary

by Eben Diskin Jul 13, 2020

Racial bias exists in just about every aspect of daily life, including many that we might never expect. A new study by RunRepeat, a Danish research firm, discovered significant racial bias in English soccer commentary. The study found that players with lighter skin are more frequently praised for intelligence, work ethic, and quality, compared to players with darker skin, who are more often commended for their physical attributes.

Aimed at understanding whether soccer media discusses players differently based on skin color, the study was based on over 2,000 statements from commentary on 80 games across the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, and Ligue 1. According to the study results, when commentators talk about intelligence, 62.6 percent of praise was aimed at players with lighter skin tone, while 63.33 percent of criticism was aimed at players with darker skin tone. It also determined that commentators are 6.59 times more likely to talk about a player’s physical power if they have darker skin, and 3.38 times more likely to discuss their speed.

“Players with lighter skin tone should receive the same proportion of comments about, for example, their intelligence or their work ethic as players with darker skin tone,” the report says. “The fact this is not the case across a large sample size indicates there is bias in the way the media discuss players based on the colour of their skin.”

Jason Lee, equalities education executive for the Professional Footballers’ Association, said, “To address the real impact of structural racism, we have to acknowledge and address racial bias […] Commentators help shape the perception we hold. It’s important to consider how far-reaching those perceptions can be and how they impact footballers 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?”

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