The Egyptian and Liverpool Football Club player Mohamed Salah has not only been cheered by Liverpool’s predominantly white fans, but has also become the subject of a chant that goes: “If he scores another few, Then I’ll be Muslim too… Then sitting in a mosque, is where I wanna be…”
The incredible popularity of Salah has led to researchers from Stanford University’s Immigration Policy Lab to raise the question: Can exposure to successful celebrities from an often stigmatised group reduce prejudice towards that group? They suggest that it can. They draw this conclusion after observing that Salah’s presence has inspired Liverpool fans to become less Islamophobic in general.
The researchers describe three ways in which they have reached their conclusion.
* First, using a counterfactual hate crime rate, they found that Merseyside county (where Liverpool is housed) had a 18.9% lower hate crime rate after Salah was signed, relative to the expected rate had he not been signed. The decrease is larger than in other counties; moreover, the decline is hate crimes is sharper than in any other crime category.
* Second, the researchers analysed 15 million tweets by followers of prominent clubs in the English Premier League. Generating a counterfactual anti-Muslim tweet rate by fans of other teams, they found that the proportion of anti-Muslim tweets by Liverpool fans after Salah joined was 53.2% lower than the expected rate had he not joined Liverpool (3.4% versus 7.2% of tweets related to Muslims).
* Finally, they conducted a survey experiment among 8,060 Liverpool fans. The results suggest that exposure to Salah may reduce prejudice by familiarising fans with Islam. “Priming respondents with information about Salah’s religious practices boosted the belief that Islam is compatible with British values by around 5 percentage points, compared to the baseline rate of 18% among the control group,” the report said.