Football shirts and color blindness

Thomas Delaney said recently: “It’s hard to describe. It’s like seeing different shades of the same color,” raising some interesting points that many may not have considered on the topic and how color blindness can impact the football experience for many fans and players.

For full disclosure, there are many different types of color blindness and I can’t speak for every color blind person, but I suffer from several different forms of color blindness including issues around red/green, green/yellow and blue/green, just to name a few.

Some quick facts about color blindness

  1. Approximately 300 million people suffer from some form of color blindness worldwide.
  2. Color blindness is more common in men, affecting about 8% of men. This is quite drastically different from women, 1 in 200 of whom are affected.
  3. It can be very difficult to identify color blindness and often people don’t know they have it. Want to check if you could be? Try that.
  4. Color blindness is hereditary and tends to skip a generation, with no real cure (other than a few corrective lenses), which means this problem is here to stay.
  5. Not everything is black and white, and generic terms such as red/green color blindness don’t say too much because there are very different levels of severity in each variant.

Now on to the meat of this sandwich, how are football fans (and professionals) impacted?

Kit conflicts are common

The main problem obviously stems from the awfully named clash of kits; come on people, clash suggests they are very different, and “kit blend” would absolutely be a better term.

Either way, the kit collides. They can happen more often than you think, again affecting different people and I’ll try to keep my examples recent.

At a very basic level it’s a nightmare for people like me, and when players pass each other it can be very difficult to identify where the player has gone, or even who has the ball. Personally, I find the latter issue much more difficult in stadiums, as the ball tends to stand out much more on TV.

Given the speed at which players now move and the constant swapping of positions, runs and formations, you can see why it can become difficult to identify the game if the kits aren’t surprisingly different.

This goes a lot further than just making sure the two kits aren’t blue for example, and people may even find it difficult if the same tone is applied to the kits; for example, when Liverpool and Manchester United played each other earlier this year, both kits were ‘dark’. Therefore, instead of United playing in their black number, they should have played in the lovely striped shirt, as the base color is much lighter and easier to distinguish from Liverpool’s deep red.

Sheffield United v Chelsea

This one must have been a task even for non-colorblind fans. Chelsea’s near-white ‘arctic blue’ kit was selected for the game, and the footage (especially the stills from the streams) looked horrendous.

The kits matched many color blind spectators almost exactly and surely it would have been much wiser for Chelsea to wear their classic blue shirts for the game.

Figures suggest around 100,000 viewers found it problematic, with many saying they had turned off or were stuck watching 20 identical shirts move around the pitch.

Liverpool v Sheffield United

This was personally the first incident that came to my mind from Delaney’s comments. The Liverpool game against Sheffield United, also from 20/21.

The red-and-green clash was horrendous, especially given the nighttime lighting, which meant players walked off the pitch much less than in an afternoon game where the natural light helps a bit.

Given that this is the most common (red/green) color blindness, it is unacceptable that such a decision has ever been made. Luckily no one wasted the cost of a ticket for this game (cheers Covid boy) but many viewers complained that they couldn’t watch the game at all. I personally went to the pub for this one and can safely say I had no idea what was going on 90% of the time.

This green kit, however, raises another color problem…

Green on green on green

Now, I’m very aware that green is a symbolic color for many clubs, so please don’t tear my head off when I say that.

Predominantly green kits shouldn’t be a thing in football, or any sport for that matter. Why? Let me introduce you to my mortal enemy, weed.

Green kit on green grass, need I say more? Colors can very often blend together and again it can be difficult to identify player locations, especially as they intersect with overlapping runs.

It’s the one that affects things much less in person than it does on TV because you don’t get the green screen as dramatically when you’re horizontal to the pitch. It’s always a big deal in big stadiums, especially when you’re sitting in gods watching 10 green ants battle a bunch of tiny humans.

Short Colors Matter

This one might seem a bit extreme, but even similar shorts can be difficult for a colorblind viewer and can sometimes cause problems for regular viewers, as teams play in matching short colors quite regularly. I find white to be a particular offender on that front, but that’s probably down to Bolton being my English team of choice.

Thomas Delaney even cited this as a big problem for him when talking about a match between Denmark and Mexico that happened earlier. He found the shorts very distracting and instead had to rely on observing players’ faces, which obviously slowed his reaction time as he was forced to pause and look closely.

A conclusion and my “worst” personal experience with color blindness during a game

Finally, I will just talk about a personal sports experience that highlighted my color blindness.

It’s not football, it’s rugby league, so I’ll be quick.

Warrington Wolves (my hometown team) were playing Leeds Rhinos in a special charity shirt designed to raise money for the Motor Neurone Disease Association. The front of the shirt was blazing in different colors, but the back and the shorts were a nice orange color.

The first half was a breeze as the team ran towards the stand we were sitting in, however, during the second half when the team ran away from us, the back orange completely blended into the green of the pitch, making it almost impossible to follow.

During the whole game, my grandfather and I (who is also color blind) had no idea what was going on and every time one player crossed another, we completely lost track of who had the ball. It was a really weird experience, and I’ll probably never forget it because we laughed at our misfortune.

So while this story isn’t a football story, I think it really highlights how color blindness can affect people in different ways, and even how the same person can have wildly different experiences with color blindness.

What teams and authorities should do in any case is consider the impact colors might have on players, not simply decide without considering inclusion. Reds, greens, blues, blacks, whites – all of these colors have different hues and tonal differences to think about, and kits should never be chosen just by color name, because ‘arctic blue’ do no favors.

— This article first appeared on r/soccer and was posted by SneakyBradley_

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