Despite their significant platforms and professional success, many footballers still have to navigate systemically racist structures, both inside and outside football, as well as dealing with overt racist abuse online. This includes more subtle forms of discrimination such as micro-aggressions and racial bias.
In 2020, we conducted a study in conjunction with RunRepeat to explore racial bias within football commentary. The study aimed to definitively understand if players’ skin tones influenced the way commentators spoke about them.
RunRepeat reviewed 80 games from the 2019/20 season across four of Europe’s top leagues:
- English Premier League
- Italian Serie A
- Spanish La Liga
- French Ligue 1
The study analysed 2,074 statements across these matches from commentators speaking in English and working for UK, US and Canadian media outlets, where they discussed 643 unique players of various skin tones.
The findings showed bias from commentators who praised players with lighter skin tones as more intelligent, higher quality and harder working than players with darker skin tones.
Players with darker skin tones were significantly more likely to be reduced to their physical characteristics or athletic abilities – namely pace and power – than those with lighter skin tones.
The clear identification of bias in football commentary was a moment of reckoning for the industry. Following the publication of the report, hundreds of sports journalists and broadcasters attended a joint PFA and BBC Sport training webinar about avoiding racial bias.
The PFA are committed to funding more research in this area, with a follow-up project already underway.