Jul 1, 2020 - Sports

Study finds racial bias in soccer broadcasts

Two soccer players kneeling before a game

Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg of Southampton (L) and Eddie Nketiah of Arsenal "take a knee" before their teams face each other in a Premier League match. Photo: Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images

Soccer commentary is full of racial bias, according to research conducted by Danish sports data company RunRepeat and published by the Professional Footballers' Association.

By the numbers: Researchers sampled 80 games from the 2019-20 seasons of the English Premier League, French Ligue 1, Italian Serie A and Spanish La Liga, analyzing over 2,000 statements made by commentators about 643 players.

  • Players with lighter skin were praised more frequently for their intelligence (62.6% of the positive comments), work ethic (60.4%) and overall quality (62.8%).
  • Meanwhile, 63.3% of criticism about intelligence was aimed at players with darker skin, along with 67.6% of criticism about a player's quality.

Between the lines: White players were more likely to be credited with admirable work ethic, while black players were often reduced to their physical abilities, according to the study.

  • Black players were four times more likely than white players to be described in terms of their strength and seven times more likely to be praised for their speed, the study found.

What they're saying: "Commentators help shape the perception we hold of each player [and] it's important to consider how far-reaching those perceptions can be," PFA executive Jason Lee told NYT.

  • "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?"

The last word:

"It's not that Black players can't be fast and powerful. It's that in soccer, too often, it is the only thing they can be."
ā€” Zito Madu for SB Nation in 2018
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