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Racism in English football – a fantasy league perspective

23 December 2012
Can we infer the level of racism in English football from their activity as fantasy managers?

Can we gain insight into the level of racism in English football from the activity of fantasy managers?

In the last fifteen months, perhaps no topic has been as widely debated as racism in English football. Some observers have suggested that a number of high-profile incidents indicate that racism is on the rise, and more must be done to address the issue.

The scale of the discussion has been inflated by the media’s tendency to latch on to stories and turn them into a self-perpetuating narrative. This time last year, the BBC reported that compared to last season, “incidents of racist or indecent chanting rose 28% (for 31 to 43).” The headline statistic is hugely misleading – in absolute terms the rise in arrests was negligible, and as a proportion of all fans attending games it rose from 0.00024% to 0.00032%.

However these numbers do not answer the question as to whether racism is a deep-rooted issue in English football.

Alex Bryson and Arnaud Chevalier came up with a clever way of analysing discrimination in the Premier League: look at the buying and selling activity of fans in fantasy football.

If fantasy managers systematically choose white players over equally-able and valued black players, we could reasonably infer some level discrimination amongst fans of English football.

Their results, using data from the 2008/09 official Premier League Fantasy Football game, reveal a few interesting and varied findings:

  1. Among lower-scoring players, black players have a higher valuation than white players. The reverse is true among higher-scoring players.
  2. Fantasy managers are “more likely to hire players who perform better in the course of the season, but this propensity is lower in the case of black players”
  3. Among the best performing players only, fantasy managers attach more weight to black player performance in the most recent game than white player performance in the most recent game. No effect exists among other players.

Findings 1 and 3 are not consistent with racial discrimination, but finding 2 is. There is nothing to conclusively suggest racism is prevalent among fantasy managers.

As the authors suggest, information on the fantasy managers themselves would help isolate and identify discrimination effects. Extending the research to more recent seasons would also enable us to challenge some of the claims made in reference to the supposedly growing number of race-related incidents in the Premier League.

The transparent activity of its fans in fantasy football may help reveal some hidden truths.

One Comment leave one →
  1. 11 August 2013 6:01 pm

    I support English football.

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