Punishing the Foreigner: Implicit Discrimination in the Premier League Based on Oppositional Identity


  • The authors thank Neli Demireva for very insightful comments and suggestions, Markus Eberhardt for invaluable technical assistance, and three anonymous referees for their helpful suggestions. Edoardo Gallo would like to thank the George Webb Medley Endowment Fund and Nuffield College for financial support. Thomas Grund would like to thank the Department of Sociology at Oxford and Nuffield College for financial support. All remaining errors are our own.


We present the first empirical study to reveal the presence of implicit discrimination in a non-experimental setting. By using a large dataset of in-match data in the English Premier League, we show that white referees award significantly more yellow cards against non-white players of oppositional identity. We argue that this is the result of implicit discrimination by showing that this discriminatory behaviour: (i) increases in how rushed the referee is before making a decision, and (ii) it increases in the level of ambiguity of the decision. The variation in (i) and (ii) cannot be explained by any form of conscious discrimination such as taste-based or statistical discrimination. Moreover, we show that oppositional identity players do not differ in their behaviour from other players along several dimensions related to aggressiveness and style of play providing further evidence that this is not statistical discrimination.