EA Sports’ Fifa football videogame series is arguably the most successful sports gaming franchise of all time. Since its debut in 1993, it has sold over 260 million copies across 29 iterations. A recent study by Paul Ian Campbell and Marcus Maloney into the Fifa20 game shows that physical play wasn’t the only thing the game replicated. It also reproduced – within its very coding – the racial stereotypes that are deeply embedded within the sport.

The study found that the aggregate scores for the digital players’ sporting attributes directly correlated with the racial stereotypes associated with black and white footballers in real life.

Sociological studies on racism in sports commentary have consistently found that football match commentators overwhelming “see” and praise white athletes for their intelligence and black players for their inherent physical prowess – even when black and white footballers are doing the exact same thing on the pitch.

This racist bias is traceable back to pseudoscience that emerged in Europe during the enlightenment era. White people were argued to be the most evolved, with the largest skull sizes – the most intelligent, learned and civilised. Black people, conversely, were positioned as the least evolved, with the smallest brains, physically and intellectually as close to other animals as they were to white humans.

These beliefs were deployed to argue that black people were naturally more durable, faster, stronger and less intelligent than white people. This facilitated the view that black people were inherently better suited to physically demanding labour. It also made them “natural” athletes.

All this comes as African players who ply their trade locally are battling for the African Nations Championship (CHAN) with the hope of getting lucrative contracts in Europe after the tournament. ALLAfrica