Colour blindness in football: Kit clashes and fan struggles - what is being done?

By James CroninBBC Sport

Imagine trying to pass to a team-mate or avoid an opponent, but you can't because this is what you see...

A Premier League tweet shows two pictures of Brighton scoring and then celebrating a goal. In the first picture it is almost impossible to distinguish between the colours of the kits being worn by Southampton and Brighton

From the grassroots to the highest professional level, colour blindness can impact the performance of players and coaches, spoil the enjoyment of watching sport (live or on TV), and affect commercial deals.

Kit clashes, coloured footballs under floodlights, signage and multi-coloured digital content can be problematic for people affected. A staggering one in 12 men suffer from colour blindness, and one in 200 women, amounting to a worldwide community of over 300 million people.

Despite this statistic, all too often colour blind fans find themselves unable to tell the teams apart, buy tickets independently or even see the ball.

Throughout the season, colour blind fans take to social media to vent their frustration and make the leagues and broadcasters aware of their ongoing oversight. In the Premier League during the last campaign, there were constant kit clashes being flagged up by viewers.

A Twitter user posts a tweet says in the game between Norwich and Everton is "almost unwatchable" for colour blind users because of the kit colours. Gary Lineker replies asking the Premier League to take note and thanking the user for bringing the issue to his attentionA Twitter user says it is "absolute nonsense" that Newcastle are playing in orange against Watford, who are playing in yellow.. "Can you please for once think about your colour blind viewers?" he asks.

This is common across leagues around the world, and also in the international game. The same questions are asked of Fifa and Uefa during major tournaments, with many high-profile matches causing difficulty.

Pepe attacks the ball as Portugal play Croatia. The original picture appears to show a distinctive difference between the kits, but another image shows how a colour blind viewer might see them - and they are much harder to distinguish between.
At first glance Portugal's shirt for their game against Croatia appears to stand out...
Olivier Giroud appeals as France play Romania. The original picture shows Romania's keeper wearing a green kit, which is distinct from his team-mates' yellow kit. But a second image shows how colour blind viewers might see this, with the keeper's kit appearing to be yellow and almost impossible to distinguish from what his defenders are wearing.
Spot the keeper in this Romania v France game
A range of kits lined up next to each other. In the first image, the 12 kits are bright colours and all stand out from one another. In the second image - as a colour blind person might see them - they are much harder to tell apart.
These kits may appear different enough, but not if you are colour blind...

This is not just a problem for viewers, but players too.

Very few players are publicly colour blind, some due to lack of awareness, and others to avoid the risk of it damaging their chances of getting selected.

Coaches face similar issues, with equipment and training wear often invisible or difficult to distinguish between.

Players sit next to training cones. In the original image orange cones are clearly visible, but the other shows how they are barely visible - this is how colour blind people might see them
The smaller cones will be indistinguishable to colour blind players
Children playing football wearing bibs. In the first image the bibs are different colours. In the second one the orange, green and yellow bibs all look the same colour
Which team are you on?

What is being done?

There is growing pressure on the key stakeholders, and some steps are beginning to be made to help raise awareness and consider colour blind people in all aspects of the game.

As far back as 2014, the FA Cup swapped its traditional white for a new pink Nike football, designed to be highly visible. However, it was clearly anything but, with colour blind people unable to distinguish the ball from the pitch.

After attracting fierce criticism from fans and commentators alike, the FA swapped back to a mainly white ball just a few months after release.

A pink ball used in an FA Cup match. It was brought in to be more visible but the second image shows how it is actually hard to pick out if you are colour blind
The pink FA Cup ball was introduced with the intention of being more visible than its predecessor

The FA has been active in campaigning and educating people ever since, releasing this animationexternal-link last year to give people an appreciation of the challenges faced by players and fans. In partnership with Uefa, it co-authored colour blindness guidelines that are now being adopted by more clubs and national associations.

Last season in the Premier League, Burnley were instructed by the Premier League not to wear their alternative green strip in their match against West Ham, prompting the release of a speedily designed, special edition white kit to avoid any clashes.

A tweet shows an image of the kits involved in West Ham's game against Burnley, explaining that Burnley will wear a one-off white change kit against the Hammers because the Premier League said they could not wear their green change kit

This weekend, Nations League matches will be the focal point for this year's Colour Blind Awareness Day (6 September), with many leading national associations and players participating in a campaign. Through a European Union-funded scheme run by Tackling Colour Blindness In Sport, the likes of Portugal and Manchester United's Bruno Fernandes and Iceland and Everton's Gylfi Sigurdsson have pledged their support.

"Not being able to watch a match on TV in full colour, to help easily distinguish between teams, referee cards and coloured objects in the stands seems almost unimaginable to me," said Fernandes.

"None of my team-mates has identified as colour blind but for sure there are many in football who may face a range of difficulties when playing or watching the game.

"That's why it's so important to raise awareness, provide greater information and make changes so that those who live with colour blindness don't feel left out and experience the game to the fullest."

Bruno Fernandes shoots while in action for Portugal but his kit is less visible in the second image, which shows how a colour blind viewer might see the action
Bruno Fernandes shoots while in action for Portugal - hard to pick out against the background

Sigurdsson has experienced the issues first hand.

"I was at Reading's academy for many years with a colour blind player, Nicholas Bignall, who went on to play at a Premier League club. At the time I didn't realise he was colour blind and didn't appreciate until now how much more challenging training was for him if we used equipment he couldn't tell apart. This must have made it much more difficult to earn a place in the squad at times."

Gylfi Sigurdsson trains with Iceland. He is wearing a pink bib in the original picture, but colour blind viewers might see this as a blue bib - the same as the other players
Gylffi Sigurdsson trains with Iceland, his bib indistinguishable to colour blind players

Matt Holland, best known for his time with Ipswich, Charlton and the Republic of Ireland, is an example of a player who had to deal with colour blindness while competing at the top level.

"Generally I was OK in games but occasionally struggled when the kits were quite close colour wise. The biggest challenge was having to take a split second longer to make a decision on where I was going to pass the ball to make certain I was passing to a team-mate."

"As a commentator now, I think it is imperative that colours of opposition sides are vastly different, and it would be helpful if the numbers on the back of shirts were more visible."

Despite ongoing kit clashes and social media frustrations, slow progress is clearly being made by the decision makers of football.

"The good news is that implementing procedures to assist and protect those with colour blindness in sport is relatively simple," said Kathryn Albany-Ward, founded of Colour Blind Awareness.

"Much of the time, all that's needed is a little goodwill and forward planning, and solutions can have positive benefits for teams, fans, sponsors and broadcasters."

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