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Racial bias ‘evident’ in football commentaries as PFA urges broadcasters to address potential ‘damage’

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 30/06/2020 Richard Parry
a football player on a field © Provided by Evening Standard

The PFA has called on broadcasters to address the ‘damage’ caused through racial bias after a study reported that their phrasing is ‘likely to influence the perception of the soccer watching public’.

The study, conducted by Danish company RunRepeat in association with the PFA, analysed 80 matches evenly across four European divisions: The Premier League, Italy’s Serie, Spain’s LaLiga and Ligue 1 in France.

Using the database from the Football Manager 20 video game, players were organised by skin tone with a categorising system that scored them from one to 20 to distinguish players with ‘lighter skin tone’ from players with ’darker skin tone’.

These were used to categorise 2,074 statements relating to 643 unique players into positive and negative comments.

The report claims to find a clear differential between how white and black players are commentated on. Players with darker skin tones were more likely to be "reduced to their physical characteristics or athletic ability", such as their pace and power, while white players were praised for their intelligence and work rate. A full explanation of the methodology can be found here.

The researchers said: "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."

PFA equalities executive Jason Lee told BBC Sport: "It was always important to collate information rather than just speaking about the fact we believe there is unconscious bias within sport, and across society really.

"If you're describing two types of players, one is white and one is black, and they are both doing exactly the same thing and yet for the black player you are picking up on the negative side of it and for the white player it's the positive side, what I mean by that is a black player will be perceived as having pace and power and aggression, and a white player will have ingenuity and creativity and determination, different traits, when it could be the reverse."

The report comes as the Premier League, Football League and PFA aims to increase the number of BAME coaches in the game by offering work placements at EFL clubs .

And Lee believes that racially biased commentary, whether intentional or not, could have a damaging impact on players’ chances of successfully moving into coaching once they retire.

He added: "I think it's damaging in the long term because when players leave their playing career and they go into coaching or managing, or want to be seen in a more positive light, people will have already built up this perception because for 10 or 20 years all you've heard of is that person is quick, powerful and aggressive, and you've not heard they are actually intellectual, articulate and [have] a quite different set of skills."

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