The ripples from the overdue awakening through society towards racial injustice are continuing to spread far and wide – even into commentary boxes. BT are to put their sports commentators through mandatory staff training aimed at confronting subconscious racial bias while Sky are running sessions to ensure they know the origins of phrases they are using on air.
This is good. You cannot have too much education. Being able to look from another’s point of view is never a bad asset.
Sport in general and its paid observers in particular love a stereotype and demolishing some of its fixed pillars is to be applauded.
But if the sacking of Ron Atkinson by ITV 16 years ago for calling Chelsea defender Marcel Desailly a “f***ing lazy thick n***r” in a shameful tirade which went out across the Middle East was the genre’s Colston statue moment then sports punditry still has some distance to travel.
A study commissioned by the PFA this week showed that black footballers are more likely to be picked out for their pace and strength while white players were more likely to be praised for the intelligence of their play.
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The instinctive response is that who wouldn’t want to described as fast or powerful – both are compliments after all – but if that categorisation then blinds people to a sportsman’s more cerebral attributes, as seems to be the case amongst the overwhelmingly white commentary fraternity, then there are negative knock-on effects.
No-one is saying commentators are racists, far from it, but dividing the brains and brawn of the operation along race lines, however subtly and unintentionally, is unhelpful for the viewer and the player.
A ‘smart’ sportsman with leadership qualities tends to have better promotion opportunities during their playing career and a much longer shelf life beyond it.
The perpetuation of the athletic rather than academic stereotype may be more of a factor than plain racism in black players being passed over for managerial roles after retirement.
Sol Campbell’s departure from Southend left just five black and ethnic minority managers at the 92 clubs in English football’s top four divisions. One of them, Keith Curle, guided Northampton to promotion this week.
The announcement by the Premier League and the EFL of a BAME apprenticeship scheme with a six-man intake was a welcome attempt to increase access.
The messaging though remains important. And commentators, like managers and players, have a role to play in changing the narrative across sport.
A nod to Lewis Hamilton and the leadership he has shown in driving change across the Formula One grid is in order when it returns this weekend.
As is one to the West Indies’ impressive and articulate captain Jason Holder for persuading his team to play in England this summer when they start their Test series next week. Holder incidentally, despite being 6ft 7in and straight out of chin music central casting, is just as much of a skill-based bowler as Jimmy Anderson.
What must not be lost in the moves towards a level commentary playing field is the right of the man – or woman – with the mic to call a match exactly as they see it.
While highlighting N’Golo Kante’s Mensa-level reading of the game is one thing, a commentator should never be stopped from describing the scene in front of him for fear of trampling on perceived sensitivities.
Adama Traore is an incredible athlete and no commentator should be gagged from saying so – except on the grounds of stating the bleedin’ obvious.
The attributes that make him such an exciting player should not have to be kept hidden.
Just remember to see the whole picture, that’s all.
If Leeds United finally make it back to the Premier League this season the learning from Liverpool is that the team’s celebrations need to be kept in-house.
The release of social media footage of the champions’ private knees-up in Formby was an inevitable mistake in giving an unintended licence to fans to follow suit in public with some unsavoury results.
The players, coronavirus-tested to within an inch of their lives, were all in a safe bubble but the message the scenes sent out was the wrong one.
With the pubs opening again and Leeds’s success-starved legions on the brink of finally having something to drink to after their win over Fulham, it won’t take much of a nudge for a rerun of what happened on Merseyside across the Pennines.
Wigan Athletic’s descent into administration shows how vital it is for the Premier League to get its hand down to help out the lower leagues.
Part of the quid pro quo from government for Project Restart was a requirement for money to flow down the pyramid.
Not only has none been forthcoming but Premier League boss Richard Masters told the Department of Culture, Media and Sport this week that there have been no substantive talks on the subject with the EFL.
That needs to be an immediate priority and the money tree needs a good shake or there will be more Wigans around the corner.
Leicester City can’t buy a win, the cash-strapped Tigers are losing Manu Tuilagi and the place is in Covid lockdown. On the plus side Leicestershire are still unbeaten this season.
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