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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."
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."
Pleuler, via FiveThirtyEight

Read the full study.

Go deeper

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Nov 25, 2021 - Sports

USWNT: A new CBA and an equal pay fight

The USWNT and USMNT are currently negotiating new CBAs as well, with the men's already expired and the women's expiring on Dec. 31.

State of play: The U.S. Soccer Federation announced in September that it had offered both teams the same proposal in an effort to align them under a single CBA. Complicating things is that the men and women have long had different priorities.

Nov 25, 2021 - Sports

Two NWSL teams searching for new head coaches after abuse allegations

Photo: Roy K. Miller/ISI Photos/Getty Images

Saturday's NWSL title game featured 138 minutes of brilliant soccer between two teams — the Washington Spirit and Chicago Red Stars — who are now searching for new head coaches.

Why it matters: The championship was a microcosm of the NWSL's ninth season, which combined superlative play on the field with institutional failures off of it.

Kendall Baker, author of Sports
Nov 25, 2021 - Sports

U.S. Soccer president: “We’re on the same side” as USWNT on equal pay

Photo: Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

Axios spoke with Cindy Parlow Cone, the president of U.S. Soccer (and former USWNT star), about the ongoing CBA negotiations and equal pay lawsuit.

There's a lot going on right now. Where do things stand at the U.S. Soccer Federation?