Study shows racial bias in football commentary

Romelu Lukaku - a player who has been subject to racial bias in football commentary

In association with the PFA, a RunRepeat study found a significant racial bias in the language and communication of football commentators.

(Note: this is a general overview of the study. You can download the report using the links below.)

Download: RunRepeat x PFA report | RunRepeat x PFA report including additional detailed analysis

The Guardian has called it “groundbreaking” but for many Black people—including myself—the findings from RunRepeat’s study is not surprising.

Today, the athletic shoe review site released a report (lead by Danny McLoughlin) in conjunction with the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) outlining racial bias within football commentary. This is the first research study of its kind to analyse the language used by commentators when discussing footballers of colour.

Methodology

According to RunRepeat, 80 games from the 2019/20 season were reviewed from the following leagues:

  • Serie A in Italy
  • La Liga in Spain
  • Ligue 1 in France
  • Premier League in England

The study analysed 2,073 statements from pundits who commentated on these matches, speaking in English on UK, USA and Canadian media outlets. They also discussed 643 unique players of various races and skin tones.

(A full methodology can be found on the RunRepeat report page.)

The key findings

Some of the most significant findings include:

  • On the subject of “intelligence”:
    • 62.60% of praise was aimed at players with lighter skin tone
    • 63.33% of criticism was aimed at players with darker skin tone
  • When talking about power, commentators were 6.59 times more likely to be discussing a player with a darker skin tone
  • When talking about speed, commentators were 3.38 times more likely to be discussing a player with a darker skin tone
  • When talking about work ethic, 60.40% of praise was aimed at players with a lighter skin tone

Thoughts

The findings haven’t surprised me but it’s good to see a study like this and for the PFA to associate themselves with it. However, I’m unsure whether using skin colour as a representation of race is problematic. Not all Black people have “dark skin tones” and not all White people have “light skin tones”.

While many people who exhibit racial biases hold these sorts of binary beliefs, and often target dark-skinned Black players with their brand of racism, it’s something that could be evaluated deeper in a different report.

In terms of next steps, I would be interested to hear the responses of football commentators and outlets that employ them. If I had to make a guess, I suspect they would look at bringing in more Black commentators (which wouldn’t solve the issue) or White commentators would apologise. Whether those apologies would lead to genuine change is another story.

Stream two videos below, one regarding an Italian football pundit sacked after a racist remark targeting Romelu Lukaku and a TEDx Talk about American sports journalists’ racial bias.

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