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Measuring the cost of racial abuse in football

Like many football fans around the world, Paolo Falco, a labor economist at the University of Copenhagen, was pleased with the results of the European Championship final last Sunday. And he was just as stunned by the aftermath.

All three black England players who missed a penalty shot in the hours following the match Heaped up due to racial abuse On social media. The abuse caused anger from Prince William and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and revived a saying that was too familiar. If you lose, you become black. “

In recent years, UEFA, the governing body of European football, has been fighting racism against players both online and in stadiums.But The operation lastsIn Italy and elsewhere, world-class color players Received racist chanting And adjectives, and even letting bananas be thrown into the field. Dr. Falco, who closely follows Italy’s top league Serie A, said:

In December, he and his two colleagues, economists at the University of Trento in Italy, Mauro Caselli and Gianpiero Mattera, and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development in Paris-abuse of the stadium in the game. Their working paperWaiting for a peer-reviewed journal, about 500 Serie A players in the first half of the 2019-2020 season of the main Italian Championship League, before the stadium is full and noisy Covid-19 pandemic. We compared the performance. — Until the second half, when the “ghost game” was played in an empty stadium.

Their results were outstanding: one subgroup of players, and only one, played significantly better in the absence of the crowd. “African athletes, who are most often the target of racial harassment, have found significant performance improvements when their supporters are no longer in the stadium,” the author writes.

Dr. Falco spoke on the phone from Copenhagen on Thursday. The following conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

What influenced your research?

After the blockade began, I was watching a soccer match, but on TV I just didn’t hear all the noise and all the chanting that normally occurs in the background of a soccer match, and how much my experience was. I was impressed by how different it was. ..

I’m from Naples, and football fans in Naples are definitely very noisy. In such a stadium, you can see that emotions are expressed in the best and worst conditions. And I can’t help but feel that it is influencing what is happening on the ground of the stadium.

I started wondering: will it make an equal difference for all players? Who is the player who suffers more or less, or can be more or less, with or without fan pressure?

What was your working hypothesis?

Players targeted by color will get better performance when the pressure is removed. This has nothing to do with the general pressure to play in the stadium, which is the same for all players.

Under normal circumstances, this question is very difficult to address, as there is no desired experiment to see how those players perform compared to themselves, with or without fans. is. Covid gave us that very natural experiment. From one day to the next, players moved from a packed stadium to an empty stadium.

I was interested and started to analyze the data. And in fact, players are affected differently, and the most vulnerable players appear to improve their performance the moment these pressures disappear. We strongly believe that this effect is there because it survived after controlling many potential confounders, such as the weather, the time of day the match, and the strength of the opponent’s team.

Which metric did you use as a measure of player performance?

There are very detailed statistics produced by published algorithms for the performance of all players after every match. This is not just a scored goal, it’s very objective. How far did the player run during the game? How many times did they complete the pass?

These are statistics from databases commonly used for fantasy team ratings and betting purposes, right?

That is the correct answer.

There is an interesting and growing literature The impact of football fans on the entire team.. For example, referees have been shown to be less favorable to the home team in the absence of spectators, and the home advantage is less pronounced in terms of who wins. What we wanted to do was look at the individual players to see the difference in performance between players with a particular ethnic background.

I would like to return to the end of that game between England and Italy. Not only do they have the same pressure as all other footballers on the field when they approach that penalty, but they are treated the moment they are black, they are a minority and they make a mistake. It is very likely that you will be treated just like you did.

Think about the incredible pressure on those players. It makes you almost quiver. That’s why I don’t think it was too big a leap of imagination to think that something like this could be found in the data.

What did your results show?

African players performed 3% better in the second half of the season compared to the first half of the season. OK, you might think that 3 percent isn’t a big deal. But if you’re talking about the productivity and profits of a company and its workers, 3 percent would be enormous. If you think of soccer players as workers, it will ultimately reduce their productivity by 3%, affecting the entire team.

These are financial costs, not just moral or ethical concerns. Players from Africa play poorly in front of the spectators, but no one else performs well, which reduces the overall quality of the game. This should bother club owners as they are investing in players.

We also looked at players from teams known to have been particularly abused at the beginning of the season. The Italian authorities have actually recorded episodes of abuse from fans at the stadium, so they know which team was playing in the match before the blockade of such racist behavior. And it was the players of these teams, including Naples, who performed the most in the absence of spectators, with a 10% improvement.

We are talking about the elite of the country’s elite athletes. They are in the best position in terms of social status and money earned. Therefore, the fact that these athletes are affected is very worrisome. If you look at the lower leagues, this must be happening a lot more.

Do you think your research group, with African players accounting for only 7% of the total, was robust enough to provide meaningful results?

That’s a good question. However, the number of players plays only a certain role. This is because these are players who observe many times a year. Each week, 38 observations are made by each player during the season, about half before and half after the lockdown. The statistical power of the analysis is very strong. This is because we are comparing the exact same person back and forth, not just two random samples.

As stadium fans, we all want to think that we are not just a spectator, our voice has a big impact on the game. Your research suggests that we do, but it’s unpleasant.

You may be a little worried about what we did here, as people are convinced that screaming racist will help the team win. On the other hand, I firmly believe that research should aim to clarify the facts and remain transparent at all times. In this case, I hope the people in charge of the economics of this game will understand that racism is spending money on them and damaging their investment. If a particular player isn’t able to reach their full potential, the game is simply unattractive and unattractive.

A recent shot put event should have set a national record for 55 feet in the UK, but an inquiry was made because it turned out that 16 pounds weighed 0.5 ounces too light.


Measuring the cost of racial abuse in football

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