The study found that players with lighter skin are regularly and overwhelmingly praised for intelligence, work ethic and quality compared with those with darker skin, who are reduced to physical and athletic attributes.
More than 2,000 statements from commentary in English on 80 games across the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga and Ligue 1 were analysed, and revealed some damning findings.
RunRepeat ratio-adjusted its numbers to account for the fact there were 1,361 comments about lighter-skinned players and 713 about darker-skinned players. They found the former group were more widely praised for intelligence (62.60%), hard work (60.40%) and quality (62.79%). Commentators are also 6.59 times more likely to talk about the power of a player if he has darker skin and 3.38 times more likely to reference his speed.
Of the 643 players referenced in the study, each was designated a skin-tone value between 1-20 based on those assigned in the database of Football Manager 2020, with 1-11 classified as “lighter skin tone” and 12-20 as “darker skin tone”.
The report states, “Players with lighter skin tone should receive the same proportion of comments about, for example, their intelligence or their work ethic as players with darker skin tone. The fact this is not the case across a large sample size indicates there is bias in the way the media discuss players based on the colour of their skin.”
The English players union, the PFA, has backed the study. “To address the real impact of structural racism, we have to acknowledge and address racial bias,” PFA’s Equalities Executive, Jason Lee said.
“Commentators help shape the perception we hold. If a player has aspirations of becoming a coach or manager, is (it) 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.”
A total of 20 games from each league with English commentary were analysed, and included matches covered by UK broadcasters and those for an international audience – including Sky Sports, BT Sport, FreeSports, beIN Sports, TSN, NBCSN and ESPN.