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The hidden problem with colours

Copyrights: FA/UEFA

The hidden problem with colours

Given that colour blindness is one of the world’s most common inherited conditions affecting approximately 300 million people worldwide, it is surprising how few people working in sport have any idea of its implications.

We see colour through three types of nerve cells in our eyes called cones, which absorb red, green and blue light. With colour blindness (also known as colour vision deficiency) one cone type doesn’t operate normally.

It’s a well-known fact that colour blind people mix up reds and greens, but people generally aren’t aware this is because the cone defects result in many different colours appearing the same. Reds and greens both appear ‘brown’.  Many colour combinations cause similar problems. Reds can appear black, light green and orange can look yellow, pink can be mistaken for blue, green or grey. For colour blind people, the colour ‘purple’ is something of a myth - to them it’s a shade of blue!

As sport is a very visual activity for which the ability to distinguish between colours is critical, not just for players, match officials and spectators, but also for the commercial interests of clubs, broadcasters and sponsors, it’s essential for stakeholders to understand the condition and its impacts.

A staggering 8% of males (1 in 12) are colour blind but only 1 in 200 women are (due to the way colour blindness is inherited). This means colour blindness is a particular issue for male sport. In an average football team, statistically, there will be at least one colour blind player. Put another way, in an average youth academy of 200 boys, 15 or so will have some form of colour blindness. Yet, on the whole, football coaching doesn’t account for colour blindness. This is astonishing since colour blindness can impact the performance of players at all levels of the game.

Thomas Delaney of Denmark (and Borussia Dortmund) admitted to a live radio phone-in, just before he set off to play in the 2018 World Cup, that he had struggled to tell the difference between the kits in the friendly game he had recently played in, between Denmark (in red) and Mexico (in green). But Delaney is unusual in speaking out. There’s a stigma attached to being colour blind, so most coaches have no idea who their colour blind players are.

At grassroots, young children can be put off sport simply because they can’t tell kits or training bib colours apart, easily spot training cones/coloured balls against the pitch or see line markings.

Kit ‘clashes’, coloured balls under floodlights, signage and coloured digital information can be problematic, not only for colour blind people themselves, but also for the commercial interests of clubs. Buying tickets and merchandise can be very frustrating if you can’t understand colour-coded seating plans or recognise the colour of merchandise in the online store. The result is lost revenue.

For clubs and venues though, there are other more serious implications.  In a national stadium the size of Wembley, there will be approximately 5,500 colour blind fans attending a capacity game, so it’s essential they can follow information on signs or stadium plans and easily see emergency information.

At Colour Blind Awareness we’ve been working closely with UEFA and some national football associations to raise awareness and create guidance and resources, which have been translated into several languages. But there’s still a huge amount of work to do.

We’ve been extremely lucky to have obtained funding from the EU Erasmus+ Programme for the ‘Tackling Colour Blindness in Sport’ project (TACBIS), one of the aims of which is to raise awareness of the condition at the European level.

The project partners have produced an animation to highlight the areas of football which can be impacted by colour blindness and have been instrumental in obtaining high profile ambassadors for the campaign, including Portugal International and Manchester United midfielder Bruno Fernandes, who said earlier this year:   

“Not being able to watch a UEFA Europa League or a Manchester United 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… 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. Football is a universal language and everyone has the right to speak it clearly and confidently.”

With the help of such amazing ambassadors, we hope that in the near future we will begin to see real changes taking place for the benefit of colour blind people, whatever their interest or involvement in sport.

For more informaiton and resources, including the UEFA guidance for football, visit:

Kathryn Albany-Ward is the Founder-CEO, of Colour Blind Awareness.


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Kathryn Albany-Ward


Monday, November 23, 2020 - 15:41