Nov 3, 2021 - Sports

How race and gender impact sports fandom

Broadcast video (L) compared to animated rendering. Courtesy: SportLogiq

Sports commentary is riddled with unconscious bias, and a new study shows just how drastically race and gender can impact fandom.

The study: Using tracking technology that can capture how players move their limbs, researchers produced two-dimensional renderings to determine what soccer looks like when you can't see who's playing.

1. Race: Research has shown that white soccer players are more likely to be praised for things like work ethic, while Black players are often reduced to their physical abilities. What happens when race is removed?

  • Of the 47 study participants who watched a two-minute clip of Senegal vs. Poland at the 2018 World Cup, 70% said that Senegal was "more athletic or quick," a common stereotype of Black players.
  • But of the 58 others who saw a rendering of the same two minutes without knowing which teams were playing, 62% picked Poland, whose players were all white.
"The physical advantages that supposedly defined the African team's style of play disappeared as soon as their skin color did."
ā€” John Muller, FiveThirtyEight

2. Gender: The study also examined gender bias by showing viewers a pair of two-minute clips, one from the NWSL and one from League Two, the English men's fourth tier.

  • 57% of people who watched the broadcasts said the men's game was "higher quality," while 59% of those who saw genderless stick figures preferred the women's match.
  • Of note: The results of the gender portion weren't statistically significant. But Toronto FC director of analytics and study co-author Devin Pleuler still thinks the research is promising.
"These results are suggestive that your average soccer fan can't tell the difference between something that does have a large investment level and the women's game, which does not."
ā€” Pleuler, via FiveThirtyEight

Read the full study.

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