Fourteen percent of professional footballers in the Netherlands have experienced discrimination

13 August 2021

Racism and other forms of discrimination are a regular occurrence in professional football in the Netherlands, according to four in ten professional footballers. This is the conclusion of a study conducted by the Mulier Institute.

The research of the institute, which is part of the action plan of the KNVB, the Dutch Football Association, against racism, was conducted with 118 professional football players. Fourteen per cent of them said they had had to deal with racism or discrimination. A quarter of the players with a migrant background also said that jokes or negative remarks are sometimes made within their team about skin colour, origin or religious beliefs. Opinions differ as to whether such jokes are undesirable.

Taboo on discussing racism and discrimination?
One-fifth of all professional football players say that there is a taboo on discussing prejudice and stereotypes based on skin colour and origin. This opinion is more common among players with a migration background (31%). These players in particular also think it is important to have more coaches, managers and directors of colour in professional football (65%, compared to 14% of players without a migration background).

Tackling racism: sanctions and obstacles

The poll showed the following about tackling racism:

  • Almost all professional footballers believe that action should be taken against negative comments from spectators or players about the colour of their skin, their ethnic origin or their religious beliefs.
  • Players rate the KNVB’s approach to racism as barely satisfactory. The way their own club, fellow players and themselves deal with racism is rated more than sufficient.
  • Negative reactions from supporters, public opinion and social norms and traditions are seen as the biggest obstacles to tackling racism. Only a few players think that the clubs are an obstacle.
  • Apart from sanctions, positive attention from football journalism, the KNVB and clubs is seen as the most important measure that contributes to counteracting racism in professional men’s football.

Reaction Dutch Football Association
Almost all the professionals believe that action should be taken against expressions of racism from the public. The approach of the KNVB is assessed with a slight mark. The boundary is clear: ‘discrimination and exclusion will not be tolerated in any form. Anyone who discriminates and excludes others does not belong in football. Football is a team sport. Football unites us. We should not only be very proud of that. We should also guard it’, the KNVB responds. Not by us and not by anyone as far as we are concerned. So let’s reduce that 14% to 0% as soon as possible. Because only keeping the zero, a clean sheet when it comes to racism, is acceptable.

Survey among professional footballers in the Netherlands
For this study, the Mulier Institute, in collaboration with the Association of Contract Players (VVCS), conducted a survey among 118 male professional football players in the Netherlands. This is part of the monitoring of the ‘Attack Plan against Racism and Discrimination in Football’ and of the pillars ‘inclusive sports and exercise’ and ‘positive sports culture’ of the National Sports Agreement. This research supports policy to combat racism and other forms of discrimination in sport and (professional) football.

About the Mulier Institute
The Institute is named after W.J.H. (Pim) Mulier (1865-1954), pioneer and patriarch of (organized) sports in the Netherlands. The objective of the Mulier Institute is to contribute to a well-founded policy, aimed at the promotion of sport, sportive exercise and strengthening of the sports sector.

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