Wednesday, March 22, 2023
Bringing the Latest in News Straight to Your Screen

Work Still Required To Root Out Discrimination From Football

By News Creatives Authors , in Leadership , at July 24, 2021

The recent Euro 2020 football tournament shone a renewed light on racism in the sport. Players from the England team were taking the knee throughout both the tournament itself and the matches leading up to it, with some fans choosing to boo that statement. 

Conservative politicians, including prime minister Boris Johnson and home secretary Priti Patel refused to condemn this booing, which many believe provided implicit consent for the unedifying scenes after the country’s defeat in the final to Italy, when Black players Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, and Bukayo Saka received a torrent of racist abuse online for the penalties they missed in the match.

Unfairly judged

While the events have produced a significant amount of attention and widened the dialogue around racism in football, online abuse is not the beginning nor the end of the problems in the sport. Many other forms of discrimination bear more similarities to those found in other walks of life.

For instance, a Swiss study from a few years ago looked at how action on the pitch is viewed.  Volunteers were shown 64 game sequences taking place in the Fifa video game. The volunteers consisted of a number of white players, white referees, and white fans. The sequences consisted of a player being tackled by an opponent, with each clip designed to be ambiguous as to its legality by an independent judge. The viewers were asked to judge whether a foul had been committed.

The results reveal that race plays a big role in how we judge the fairness of a tackle. When the challenge involved players of different skin color, viewers were less likely to deem it a foul, with the referees in particular unlikely to judge it a foul if the change was made by a Black player. However, when it was clear that a foul had been committed, participants were much quicker to come to that conclusion when it was a Black player making the tackle.

The researchers suggest that the former is because people are aware of racism and make efforts not to appear so, but when the foul was obvious, they harboured implicit expectations that Black players will be more likely to commit fouls and therefore judged faster than white players.

Pay differences

Pay differentials are also common in the wider economy, with data from the Office for National Statistics revealing an almost 20% pay gap between white workers and Black workers in the UK. We may think that in the strongly meritocratic world of football that such a gap would not exist, but research from Stockholm University suggests similar discrepancies exist there too.

The researchers focused their attention on the movement of players after the s-called “Bosman ruling”, which resulted in players being free to move between clubs when their contracts ended. The ruling, which was introduced in 1995 resulted in a significant rise in movement of players, and the researchers wanted to exam whether this mobility might also shed some light on racial discrimination in the labor market.

“We find that wage discrimination against black English players was substantial before the Bosman ruling and then almost disappeared afterwards. Increasing labor mobility seemed to stop the clubs from being able to wage discriminate,” the researchers say.

Pay and performance

The researchers linked the performance of each player to his pay via a method known as “market-test”, which was supported by data from the English Premier League. The test is designed to identify wage discrimination by comparing teams with broadly similar overall wage bills but with a different ethnic makeup of their team. The researchers compared the performance differences between these teams before and after the Bosman ruling came into effect to understand how racial wage discrimination changed as a result of the ruling.

The researchers argued that the ruling should have reduced discrimination against Black players as it gave them more power and therefore it was more likely that their pay would reflect their ability. While this was indeed the case for Black players from the EU, it was not the case for those outside of the EU.

“When we look at the post-Bosman period, we find that the only players who face wage discrimination are black non-EU players. These players are the only ones who have to face both prejudice from clubs and restrictive contracting rules. This strengthens the case that contracting rules and labour mobility are key to limiting wage discrimination” the researchers say.

A race ceiling

While that lends a degree of optimism on the playing field, things are much less positive off the field. Research from the University of Leicester highlights how difficult it can be for Black managers to make their way to the top of the game.

The study comes against a backdrop in which fewer than 1% of senior coaches in the Premier League are Black, despite Black players making up around 30% of the total. There are no Black managers currently plying their trade in England’s top division.

Even among those who ostensibly support greater equality, they have often done so in the context that the lack of Black managers at the top of the game is more down to some kind of failing in the managers themselves rather than anything more systemic.

The research highlighted the crucial role social networks play in securing coaching and management work. Indeed, these connections were often the most important aspect in securing work, and were considerably more important than hard work and qualifications. 

Similar findings were illustrated by research from the University of Washington, which found that foremost among the discrimination found by Black people in the workplace was exclusion from key social networks. This was especially so the more senior one climbed, which is, of course, a time when networks become even more important.

In football, access to these networks gives people early notice of the latest jobs and vital introductions to the key decision makers for those roles. They also provide invaluable referees who can vouch for their abilities and endorse their candidacies. This was ably illustrated in a story told by ex-England international Jamie Redknapp, who explained how he helped Frank Lampard get his first job in management.

… I rung Mel Morris (Derby County Chairman), he’s got a house up the road from me … He said Frank had no experience … I said he wants to be a manager, please meet him. The next day he met him in London, they had a meeting at 7 o’clock, half past eight he rung me and said he’d blown him away. I’ve given him the job. And that was it.

Lampard then proceeded to hire a friend as a coach, despite not having any relevant experience. The episode highlights that while the abuse metered out to Black players in the wake of the Euros final has justifiably shone the spotlight on racism in the game, it would be wrong to assume that discrimination is limited to abuse from fans towards players. Sadly, it goes much deeper than that.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *