Racial bias in TV football commentaries: Study

LONDON • Television commentators tend to praise players with lighter skin as more intelligent and hardworking than those with darker skin, according to a study by Danish firm RunRepeat in association with the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA).

The study analysed 2,073 statements from English-speaking commentators in 80 games from the 2019-20 season across Italy's Serie A, France's Ligue 1, Spain's La Liga and England's Premier League.

A total of 643 players of various races and skin tones were discussed, of which 433 were classified as players with lighter skin tone and 210 were classified as players with darker skin tone.

Analysis revealed that players with darker skin tones were "significantly more likely" to be reduced to their physical characteristics or athletic abilities like pace and power.

Around 62 per cent of praise was aimed at players with lighter skin while 63.33 per cent of criticism was aimed at those with darker skin.

"To address the real impact of structural racism, we have to acknowledge and address racial bias," PFA equalities executive Jason Lee said.

"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?"

In the fight against racism in football, the Premier League last week launched a new system for players to report racist abuse on social media.

  • 63% 

    Criticism from TV commentators directed at players with darker skin.

It will allow abusive direct messages to be reviewed and reported to the social media platform concerned, with legal action to follow where appropriate.

"Online discriminatory abuse is unacceptable in any walk of life and tackling this issue must be a priority," Premier League chief executive Richard Masters said. "Nobody should have to deal with this."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 01, 2020, with the headline 'Racial bias in TV football commentaries: Study'. Print Edition | Subscribe