A Tale of Two Footballs
Colour blindness is the world’s most common genetic condition, but it is also very misunderstood. Worldwide, about 320 million people have some form of colour blindness.
We have three types of cone cells in our eyes. Each type is responsible for detecting either red, green or blue light. In colour blindness the faulty sequencing means one cone type is unable to decipher light wavelengths correctly. As a result the brain receives incorrect information and can’t properly interpret colour, meaning that someone with colour blindness is not able to distinguish between colours normally.
Colour blindness is usually an inherited condition caused by ‘faulty’ gene-sequencing in the DNA of the X-chromosome. As such, men are 16 times more likely to be colour blind than women, 1 in 12 European men, more than 8%, have some degree of colour blindness. This equates to around 31 million males. In a footballing context, there are enough colour blind males in Europe to fill Wembley Stadium over 344 times. The image below illustrates the proportion of fans that could be colour blind at Wembley stadium, based on the general population ratio.
Colour Blindness in Football
There are a number of common issues faced by colour blind football players and fans when watching a live match.
– Kit clash
Problematic combinations include red vs green / orange; blue vs purple / maroon, red vs black (as above), yellow vs orange, mid-green vs grey / silver, bright green vs yellow / orange and bright pink vs blue
– Kit clash with pitch
An all-red kit, for example, can have the effect of making players ‘disappear’ against the background of the pitch.
– Colour of the ball
A predominantly-red ball can easily be lost by a colour blind player or spectator against the background of the pitch.
– Colour-coded stadium maps
Colours such as blue and pink appear similar, orange and green are indistinguishable.
The English FA and Colour Blindness
The English FA recently gave a case study presentation at a UEFA good practice workshop, which focussed on their efforts to ‘own’ the issue of colour blindness.
The FA was first made aware of the issue after receiving complaints from fans about the colour of the Nike football that was being used in the FA Cup and the Premier League. It consulted an expert NGO – Colour Blind Awareness – who’s advice mirrored what the fans were saying.
As a result, the FA’s Commercial Director (the FA was astute to realise that this was a business concern, as well as a social one) took ownership of the issue and began working with Nike to find a solution.
Bold and bright colours appeal to Nike’s largest consumer bracket, though it was keen to work with the FA to modify the contrast of the ball. This meant changing the base colour of mango (pink) and adding more white to its surface.
After a period of R&D, Nike released a new ball with a better contrast, which has been used all season (2015/16) in the above mentioned competitions.
Top tips for inclusion
In considering the impact on colour blind fans and participants, individuals and organisations should consider the following:
- Adopt W3C colour contrast guidelines in online publications and outputs
- Use labels and symbols in addition to colour contrast for wayfinding, signage and graphics
- Avoid the use of ‘traffic light’ colour schemes as these may not be easily distinguishable
- When deciding on alternative kits (e.g. away shirt, third shirt), consider both patterns and colour schemes. Please note, some single colour kits (e.g. all red, all green, all orange) can ‘disappear’ when contrasted against the colour of the pitch
- Consider both patterns and colours when selecting a match ball
- Avoid the following colour schemes or contrasts:
– Red / green / orange
– Red / black
– Orange / yellow / green
– Blue / purple / dark pink
– White / yellow
– Grey / green / pink
– White / pale blue and other pastel colours
- Offer support to colour blind players, coaches, administrators, and employees and be mindful of the large numbers of spectators and viewers who are colour blind and watch football matches at your grounds or at home (on television).