PFA study reveals racial bias in football commentary

30 Jun 2020

By: Sport Industry Group

A study carried out by The PFA and Danish company RunRepeat has concluded there is ‘evident’ racial bias in football commentary.

The pair reviewed 80 games from the 2019/20 season from four of Europe’s top leagues - the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga and Ligue 1 - and analysed 2,074 statements across commentators speaking in English and working for UK, USA and Canadian media outlets.

The PFA says the commentators discussed 643 unique players of various skin tones, and analysis showed that those players with lighter skin tones were praised as more intelligent, higher quality and harder working than players with darker skin tones. Players with darker skin tones, however, were significantly more likely to be described by physical characteristics or athletic abilities, such as pace and power.

According to the study, 63% of criticism around a player’s on-pitch intelligence was aimed at players with a darker skin tone, while commentators were more than six-and-a-half times more likely to be talking about players with a darker skin tone when discussing physicality. The study also concluded that, on the subject of work ethic, commentatore aimed over 60% of praise at players with a lighter skin tone. The PFA and the creators of the study have published their full methodology. 

“To address the real impact of structural racism, we have to acknowledge and address racial bias. This study shows an evident bias in how we describe the attributes of footballers based on their skin colour,” said Jason Lee, Equalities Executive, PFA.

“Commentators help shape the perception we hold of each player, deepening any racial bias already held by the viewer. It’s important to consider how far-reaching those perceptions can be and how they impact footballers even once they finish their playing career. If a player has aspirations of becoming a coach/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?”

Meanwhile, the PFA, Premier League and EFL have launched a new coach placement scheme with a view to increasing the number of Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) players transitioning into full-time coaching roles once their careers come to an end. 

The scheme is open to BAME PFA members and aims to provide up to six coaches per season with a 23-month intensive work placement within EFL clubs. 

Initially, the programme will start with a pilot scheme, beginning at the start of Season 2020/21, and will be jointly funded by the Premier League and the PFA.

Darren Moore, Chair of the Premier League’s Black Participants’ Advisory Group said: “This is a critical time for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic coaches. We all know and agree that the diversity of coaches and managers must increase and this placement scheme represents a positive step.

“There are lots of roles in the Academy system all the way through to First Team and young coaches can slot in at different points to begin that journey. We need to have the right structures and people in place to develop their careers.

“I know from my own experiences the value of strong support throughout the coaching journey, which is why I, alongside other senior coaches and former players, will be drawing on our collective expertise to provide guidance to those making the transition into coaching and working in the professional environment.”