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Football. Photo credit: Jason Charters

Study: No black goalkeepers in German Bundesliga equals discrimination and ‘racial stacking’

According to a study, the absence of dark-skinned goalkeepers in the Bundesliga is due to racial discrimination not talent. The reason why individual clubs do not employ black goalkeepers, could be a coincidence, explained integration researcher Tina Nobis from Humboldt University in Berlin. "That there isn't a single black goalkeeper in the Bundesliga, means it's not a coincidence."

Published: April 13, 2021, 8:40 am

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    Nobis explained to German weekly Der Spiegel that in the as yet unpublished study, the researchers categorized players in the first and second Bundesliga according to their skin colour and position. Among the 121 goalkeepers there is therefore not a single one who is black, and only four who were rated as “People of Colour”. A total of 20 percent of all players in the two leagues are dark-skinned.

    According to the study, there are also fewer black players compared to the average. But on the offensive flanks it is 37 percent and thus significantly more than the average.

    This dearth of black players on average could be due to “racial stacking” (also called “racist stacking”). This is the case when white people are over-represented in important positions, while dark-skinned people proportionally more often take positions in which physical characteristics play a relevant role.

    People like Nobis assume that the different occupations are mainly due to racist ascriptions and ideas and that these notions could also occur unconsciously. For example, this includes the assumption that fair-skinned footballers are game-intelligent, while black ones are not.

    Nobis believes that “racial stacking” is already present in amateur sports. Presumably, black young players are never even considered for certain positions, “because there is a lack of black role models”. The former mixed-race goalkeeper of the second division soccer club Greuther Fürth, Stephan Loboué, supported this point of view.

    Although Kicker magazine ranked him the second best goalkeeper in the league in 2009 and he was able to change teams for free, he did not receive an offer from the first division, the dark-skinned ex-professional complained to Spiegel. “In Germany, dark-skinned goalkeepers are met with great skepticism. I think they didn’t trust me to do that.”

    But the former black player David Yelldell, who was the goalkeeping coach of the U18 national team until last year and currently trains the goalkeepers of the third division club SG Dynamo Dresden, dismissed the notion of discrimination. The son of a black American and a German reacted with reluctance to the results of the study. “In all my time I have never seen anyone being prevented from playing in a certain position.”

    According to the news magazine, there are currently several young goalkeepers who are called “People of Colour” by the German Football Association and who are pushing into the selection teams.

    In France, at the University of Burgundy in November 2013, researcher Rodolphe Perchot examined “racial stacking” and racial stereotypes in another team sport: French basket-ball players. His doctoral research investigated how categorization and stereotypes were conveyed when it came to ethnic discrimination in basket-ball.

    The first study (“racial stacking” in the Pro National Basket-ball League A in France) showed that white players were more likely to be over-represented in the position of point guard considered as central in regard to performance. The available evidence produced by the second phase of the research highlighted the existence of categorization (“racial stacking”), of stereotypes (which conveys the belief that some people possess certain genetic and ethnic traits) and of biased discourse (more favourable implication in the discourse for a white player than for a black player). And Perchot’s research produced some surprising facts.

    This second phase focused on three experiments involving athlete and non-athlete subjects as coaches in an experimental context. Unexpectedly, the subjects belonging to the sport community were more prone to engage in racial stereotypes than their non-athlete counterparts.

    In a third phase, the study on the concept of centrality in basket-ball highlighted the fact that the positions of point guards and shooting guards (outside) were considered more central than the positions of power forwards and centers (inside). It is also considered that small forwards are polyvalent (central and non-central).

    In a fourth phase the researcher pointed out that bias of categorization and stereotyping could even exist in a virtual environment in which players have equivalent capacities (in a video game). The effects of discrimination (in-group favoritism) are intensified by the successful result of the match.

    In a fifth phase, after examining the relationships between white and black players and though the data presented positive discrimination towards the black players, the results showed an exaggerated preferential treatment towards the white players (overvaluation, in-group favoritism) who were considered more predominant within their team than black players.

    Finally, in the last phase which aimed at testing the effects of stereotype threat over performance (motor aspect) and discourse (cognitive aspect) the results showed no evidence of stereotype threat. Evaluation led to enhanced performance among black players whereas it presented no effect on white players. In addition, black players reported stereotyping as a boost whereas it is considered an obstacle among white players.

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