Television football: racial stereotypes embedded in multi-ethnic society
Dutch television viewers regularly express themselves in racial or ethnic stereotypes when they talk about football. This is evident from research into the way in which Dutch football viewers between the ages of 15 and 30 talk about football on television. This concerns, for example, the associations of black footballers with natural physical strength or 'animality' and of white players with mental capacities.
Research by Van Sterkenburg and his colleagues Rens Peeters and Noortje van Amsterdam shows that certain racial-ethnic stereotypes are deeply rooted in society. At the same time, depending on the 'context', it turns out which stereotypes are used. Different ethnic groups activated, as it were, different associations among viewers, sometimes based on racial, biological prejudices and sometimes or argue about cultural differences.
For example, black footballers of Surinamese descent were regularly associated with 'natural' biological qualities when it came to their sporting achievements, while white footballers of Dutch descent were more often associated with tactical and technical capacities.
Although physical strength is useful in sport, these latter qualities are useful in sport and society as a whole, and e.g. to fill leadership positions after the sporting career. Footballers of Moroccan origin were relatively often seen as 'different' in religious and cultural terms, e.g. associated with 'street culture', which made them technically proficient and selfish. These findings do not come from nowhere; they have already been partly found in earlier studies that Van Sterkenburg conducted with colleagues. It also seems that people use the stereotypes without even realising it.
The study is part of the 5-year Vidi project 'How racist is televised football and do audiences react' into the role of television football in multi-ethnic society. In the coming years, the project will also focus on the content and production side of football journalism in England, the Netherlands, Poland and Spain. Here, Van Sterkenburg explains the project.
A lot of publicity
The article was published in a special issue in the European Journal of Cultural Studies of which Awad, Engelbert and Van Sterkenburg of the Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication were guest editors. In recent months Van Sterkenburg has given presentations on the subject at BT Sport (December 2018) and Sky Sport (April 2019) in England. Sky Sports News and BBC Radio Yorkshire also paid attention to the research, as well as the Dutch magazine Sport & Strategie.