Commentating and racism - a study in the need for diversity

By Donald Oliver July 02, 2020

Earlier this week, the findings of a study which looked into racial bias in football commentary were released, and needless to say, it raised a few eyebrows.

The study, organized by RunRepeat in association with The Professional Footballers’ Association, analyzed more than two thousand statements from commentators in matches during the current 2019/2020 season.

This unique study was to determine if there was a difference in the way media speaks about players of different skin colour.

The short answer is yes, there is a bias against people of colour.

One striking example had to do with commentators speaking about a player’s intelligence.

In 63.33% of instances where there was a criticism of a player’s intelligence, a player with darker skin tone was the target, while whenever there was praise, 62.60% of that praise was aimed at players with a lighter skin tone.

The problem with the findings is the way the language of commentators help to frame ideas on race and PFA Equalities Executive, Jason Lee, sums it up perfectly.

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,” Lee said.

Let me be clear, this issue wasn’t even on my radar before the study was released on Tuesday.

On my radar, however, was the fact that there are no renowned black television football commentators in Europe. And as far as I know, no black football commentator has even been selected as part of the commentary team for the international feed at a FIFA World Cup tournament.

I am a bit surprised that football is so far behind in this regard.

Cricket commentary teams, although they mostly consist of past players, provide a much more diverse cast for broadcast. Even the sport of athletics has a wider cross-section of races and nationalities.

The likes of Lance Whittaker, Ricardo Chambers and Hubert Lawrence are three of the best track and field commentators on the planet, and they all hail from Jamaica, and are some of the best representatives of the black race in sports commentating, period. And there are more individuals out there deserving of the highest platform.

The study, although an eye-opener, didn’t highlight the race of the commentators sampled. I’m sure this would have gone a far way in determining the reason for bias against players of colour. It is the elephant in the room, and attention now needs to be paid to this issue.

There is evidence that black commentators, not only add a unique style, but a perspective badly needed in describing situations and personalities in the sporting sphere. If football truly is the global game, those describing it must be representatives of that same global audience.

How will this study move the needle in a time when the global society demands change?

We hope to see the results in the coming months and years.

And while this is not a slap in the face of those who we have become accustomed to voicing the historic moments in football, this is a chance to open the doors for the ones who lack opportunity.

Donald Oliver is a football and cricket commentator and a senior producer at SportsMax. Learn more about him at www.thedonaldoliver.com or email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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