Plenty of research on racism, discrimination and inclusion

11 May 2023

Jacco van Sterkenburg was appointed professor by special appointment of ‘Race, Inclusion and Communication, specifically in relation to Football and Media’ at Erasmus University Rotterdam two years ago. He gives a bird’s-eye view of a number of doctoral studies that are currently underway.

Jacco van Sterkenburg has been researching the topics of racism, discrimination and inclusion in football and in the media for over twenty years. “Those cases came to the fore again in 2019 around the discrimination against professional football player Ahmad Mendes Moreira. There was also growing attention for these topics through Black Lives Matter .”

Four themes
The chair at Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) was established in 2021 for a period of five years and was established in collaboration with various social partners. “In this way, the knowledge we generate can be used to take action, to realize changes. I have entered into discussions with organizations such as the anti-discrimination organization Fare, the football association UEFA and the world players’ Union FIFPRO. They wanted to work together with me and the EUR. Funds have provided money for a PhD student, Palesa Mashigo, who will be conducting research in the period 2022 to 2026.”

Four major themes will be covered in four years. Each theme results in a scientific study. “In the first year, we looked at how leaders in European football view racism and what they can and are willing to do about it. This is done through extensive interviews with directors all over Europe. The second part is about players, how they experience racism and how they view the measures regarding discrimination and racism. In the third sub-study, online discrimination and racism are mapped. And in the last part, we go more in depth to the grassroots sport, the ‘grass roots’. In consultation with the partners, it is examined which topic is most relevant for each of the four components.”

In addition, EUR – in collaboration with Fare – recently launched a Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) that addresses diversity in football leadership. “It is an important part of a major European project. In professional football, it appears that there is little diversity in positions such as board members and trainer/coaches. Both women and people with an ethnic minority background are severely under-represented. That diversity is present on the field, but it does not reflect on those positions, while people do have the ambition.”

These positions are mapped out for fourteen European countries, including the Netherlands. “We do this together with the Mulier Institute. The MOOC is an online course intended for people within the football world who have the ambition to become a coach or leader. The target group is mainly women and people from ethnic minorities. Various themes are available completely free of charge and with a low threshold: the football landscape is mapped, experiences are shown and tips are given in clips and short films. The participants can also get a certificate if they complete the entire course and complete assignments.”

The form of a MOOC is an output that differs from standard scientific publications. “It is digital, accessible and contributes to a good cause. It is a trend to publish things online to increase the reach. This time it is not specifically for our own students, but for a different target group: the ambitious people in the football world, from groups that are underrepresented in leadership positions. These online modules will remain up-to-date and usable in the coming years.”

Football and media
Then two PhD students, Arne van Lienden and Carmen Longas Luque, are conducting research into the meaning of ethnicity in football on TV. “It is an NWO Vidi project and is intended for innovative research in science. The three instruments Veni, Vidi and Vici are intended to appoint PhD students and can be applied for by scientists in various phases of their career.”

“The ‘Vidi’ is about the middle of the academic career. This is a large grant worth 800,000 euros for a period of five years. Both PhD students investigate certain forms of implicit racial inclusion and exclusion, such as ethnic stereotypes. They look at descriptions of football players on television in the Netherlands, England, Spain and Poland and how the public reacts to it.”

NWA trajectory
Finally, there is also an NWA trajectory in which PhD candidate Lis Camelia has been conducting research into the significance of sports heroes for multi-ethnic youth since 1 January – up to and including 2026. “This is a subsidy process in which collaboration is initiated between science and social parties. This in the context of the National Science Agenda (NWA). You must be able to demonstrate that you meet a social demand that is described in the NWA and that you, therefore, have a social impact.”

We are involved in this project in a consortium including project leader Dr. Rachel Gillett of the Faculty of Humanities at Utrecht University. “They put a lot of work into it. We participate in a sub-project about sports. It is about stories we learn about Europe and the Netherlands and who the important figures are in it. The assumption is that many people of colour and women are not sufficiently named, even though they are important. The question is, among other things: who are the heroes and how do they contribute to the feeling of ‘feeling at home’ among the youngest generations? In addition to sports, one of the sub-projects will look at the heroes in music (hip-hop). The consortium will also investigate which positive didactic practices can be found in education.

Together with the Mulier Institute and Radboud University, the PhD student from EUR is therefore focusing on sports. “It’s about the sports heroes for multi-ethnic youth in the Netherlands and in the Caribbean. Part of the project is historic and is being carried out by Radboud University together with social partners. Together with the Mulier Institute (Agnes Elling, Manou Anselma), we focus on contemporary heroes for multi-ethnic youth, especially in the big cities. They can be heroes from all over the world. For young people with an Antillean background, this could be baseball players who play in America, for example. But heroes can sometimes also be worshipped very locally.”

This is preceded by a definition phase. “The focus is still on the design of the research. The idea is to find out together with the young people who the heroes are and what they mean. To do this, we first have to determine from the literature who and what falls under the definition. In addition to a ‘paper’ doctoral research, it is expected that the research will eventually also have creative forms of expression, such as a theatre play in which young people can participate.”

Finally, Van Sterkenburg would like to mention an international conference on sports and discrimination on Friday 23 June at Erasmus University, in which all the above studies will be discussed: other projects on the theme.”

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