Italian referees punish more dark-skinned players than light-skinned players | Soccer

Referees in Italy’s top football league give black and darker-skinned players more yellow and red cards than their fair-skinned teammates, research shows.

Serie A officials conceded an average of 20% more fouls per season against darker skinned players from 2009 to 2019, with 11% more yellow cards and 16% more red cards.

But during the Covid-19 pandemic, when matches were played in empty stadiums, there was no prejudice in how referees treated players. This demonstrates that authorities should prioritize banning fans responsible for racist incidents, researchers say.

Many Italian clubs have large numbers of far-right supporters; players including Romelu Lukaku, Kalidou Koulibaly and Mario Balotelli have regularly been racially abused. This season, Serie A authorities launched investigations into racist chants by Lazio and Napoli fans.

The researchers, Beatrice Magistro and Morgan Wack, said they plan to look at other European leagues.

Vinícius Júnior, Real Madrid’s Brazilian full-back, has been targeted five times this season in La Liga in Spain, while Birmingham City goalkeeper Neil Etheridge was racially abused last month during an FA Cup game against Blackburn. Last season, 183 incidents were reported to the Kick It Out anti-discrimination body in English professional football.

Magistro and Wack studied data from all Serie A matches between 2009 and 2021 for their paper article Sociologypublished by the British Sociological Association. They analyzed FootyStats, WhoScored and FBref data on tackles, fouls and cards against skin tone data from the soccer manager video game. Developed by British company Sports Interactive, the game is used by professional clubs to scout players and is licensed to reproduce images of football players, graphically representing them using one of 20 skin tone categories.

Magistro, from the University of Toronto, said that most European countries collect very little data on race, which makes it “very difficult to test” the level of racism in football. “Many studies have relied on very imperfect categorizations, such as country of origin, or placing all Europeans as white and South Americans as non-white, which is problematic,” she said.

As players may be more likely to commit fouls depending on where they play, how many minutes they are on the field, the number of tackles they make and the country where they grew up playing football, the researchers used a regression analysis to eliminate these factors.

It showed that the lighter-skinned players committed an average of 21 fouls over the course of a season, compared to 25 for the darker-skinned players, who received an average of 3.9 yellow cards and 0.22 red cards per season. season, compared to 3.5 yellows and 0.19 reds per year. lighter skinned player.

Dos Santos De Paulo Dodo of ACF Fiorentina reacts to a red card during a Serie A match with AS Roma in January 2023. Photography: Silvia Lore/2023 Getty Images

The finding was “disturbing”, Magistro said, but: “We were thinking that it’s possible it’s not entirely the referee – it’s possible that maybe it’s the noise they hear in the stands.” Referees make about 200 to 250 foul decisions each game – roughly every 22 seconds.

The researchers did not have data on home and away games, so they looked at the 2020-21 season, when fans were not allowed into stadiums as a precaution against Covid. “We found that the effect disappeared,” said Magistro. “Since it’s only one year, we don’t want to say with certainty that all the racism comes from the fans.

“We also found that darker-skinned players are less likely to play aggressively. People said, ‘Maybe some of these players come from different leagues where they play more aggressively.’ We tested this and they actually play less aggressively, possibly knowing they are more likely to receive sanctions.”

Wack, who is from the University of Washington in Seattle, said his findings challenge the idea that “dishonest referees” were to blame. “If it’s this kind of fan bias that pushes them to make decisions, that has different implications,” he said.

Magistro and Wack said the bias was highly likely to have affected game results and players’ salary negotiations, and said UEFA should consider extending its “three-step procedure” on racist chants in the stands and bringing officials responsible. for monitoring crowds for racial harassment. The Italian office against racial discrimination, Unar, created a national observatory against discrimination in sport, which first reported in October last year. He said 211 cases had been detected in amateur and professional sport, and his recommendations included training football referees to recognize discrimination.

Magistro said a similar survey of the National Basketball Association of the United States by researchers at the Brookings Institute, the Washington-based thinktank, offered hope for change.

“They found the exact same thing,” she said. “Once they got that out there, they retested the same thing a few years later and found that the effect disappeared. Making it public somehow contributed to making the process fairer. So maybe the referees will realize that.”

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