Football players in Belgium's Jupiler Pro League are facing high levels of racial biases in terms of selection and refereeing decisions, a recent study by KU Leuven shows. The findings released by Le Soir on Thursday date back to the league's 2019-2020 season.
The study was conducted by Martijn Truys, a sociologist at KU Leuven, who went over all available data of the Belgian top flight's 385 players. Truys paid particular attention to the difference in treatment between players of European descent and those of African origin.
His research found that, not only were more red and yellow cards handed out to players of African origin but that they were also more likely to be benched more and play less than their European counterparts. The study also looked at these players' positions on the pitch and found that those of African descent were over-represented higher up the pitch, with 46% of them playing in attack.
The sports sociology professor Jeroen Scheerder told Le Soir that this is due to the perception that black players are seen as "fast and explosive, only needing to execute chances that have been created for them." Indeed, only 3% of players with African origin were goalkeepers.
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A previous survey conducted by the same Flemish university had shown that 37.3% of players between the ages of 10 and 20 had been the victim of discrimination on the pitch. 75% said they had witnessed racial discrimination firsthand.
These figures paint a worrying image for Belgian football authorities and the acceptance of players of African origin.
The Belgian FA will be expected to act swiftly, given the importance of ethnic diversity in Belgian football, which is reflected in the Red Devils squad.