TV: New study reveals ‘obvious’ racial bias in football commentary

TV: New study reveals 'obvious' racial bias in football commentary
Niki J. Layton
Written by Niki J. Layton

More than 2 thousand statements from commentators analyzed in 80 television matches in Premier League, La Liga, Serie A and Ligue 1 Danish research company RunRepeat, In collaboration with the Association of Professional Football Athletes (PFA).

When making comments about intelligence, 62.60% of criticism is targeted at players with mild skin tone, while 63.33% of criticism is targeted at players with darker skin tone.

When it comes to work ethic, 60.40% of praise is targeted at players with mild skin tone, while commentators are 6.59 times more likely to talk about power, 3.38 times faster when referring to a player with darker skin tone.

“To address the real impact of structural racism, we must recognize and address racial bias,” PFA Equities executive Jason Lee said in a statement. “This study shows a clear bias in how football players describe their skin color based on their characteristics.

“Commentators can help shape our understanding of each player, further enhancing any existing racial bias in the viewer. It’s important to think about how far those perceptions go and how they affect football players even after they finish their playing careers.”

“If a player has aspirations to become a coach / manager, and when those opinions appear to be the result of racial bias, are commentators regularly given an unfair advantage to smart and hardworking players?”

‘Very fully’

Run Repeat’s study recorded 2,074 statements on 643 players from English commentary on Sky Sports, BT Sport, FreeSports, Bean Sports, TSN, NBCSN and ESPN, based on an analysis of 20 matches from each of the four leagues for the 2019/20 season.

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Using the extensive database of Computer Game Football Manager, players’ skin tone is rated from 1-20, players from 1-11 to 433 are “lightweight” and 12-20 to 210 players are classified as “dark”.

The study found that the difference in statements was “a lot of speed and strength when commenters discuss physical characteristics or athletic abilities.”

Renowned British commentator Clive Tyldesley believes that the publication of the study will help him think twice before broadcasting it to his colleagues.

“Interpreters have a responsibility to use language properly – and this is the only ‘but’ I will add – and I don’t hesitate to call Adama Thor a strong and passive player.

“N’Golo Conte is not fast or strong, so you can call it when you see him,” added Chelsea midfielder Tyldesley.

“I would take any advice to become a better communicator, but I would reject any suggestion if I found myself guilty of stereotyping footballers based on their skin color. I can’t think of any element of player skin color that affects their performance.

“From Tore Conte, from Virgil van Dijk, from Raheem Sterling, to Tammy Abraham,” Tildesley said of the Liverpool defender, Manchester City forward and Chelsea striker.

“All of them are excellent in their own positions, but there are very few common denominators in the way they play, so a survey is not necessary to show that stereotypes are morally wrong, but this is very inaccurate.”

Sky Sports already has sessions with its presenters, reporters and commentators in which the importance of the language they use to describe athletes from different backgrounds will be discussed.

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Along with the PFA and Kick It Out, Sky Sports has also held additional sessions on language staff use while discussing any stories and issues related to Black Lives Matter.

A BT Sport spokeswoman said the company did not see the report, but a statement issued in connection with the Black Lives Matter movement, in which the company “pledged to implement mandatory cultural sensitivity and unconscious bias training for all of our people.”

Free Sports, BN Sports, TSN, NBCSN and ESPN did not immediately respond to CNN Sport’s request.

About the author

Niki J. Layton

Niki J. Layton

Niki J. Layton is a journalist who writes on politics, environment and human rights in South Asia.

For 15 years, she has written for several publications and websites including TIME, Harper's, Al Jazeera, The Caravan, The Hindu,, Outlook, The Wire, The New York Times, Foreign Policy, The Economic Times, Tehelka, and news channel CNN-IBN. She is an India correspondent for The Straits Times, Singapore.

Some of the awards she has received are the Red Cross Award for reporting on conflict, Mumbai press award for environmental reporting, and ILO award for writing on labour. Niki has a Masters in political journalism from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, New York

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