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Watching rugby

Watching rugby

For a televised game, the number of people watching and affected by a clash of kit colours could be enormous, but even if only one person watching on the sidelines of the school field is having trouble following some elements of the game due to an avoidable kit clash, then rugby is letting them down.

The most common frustration – kit ‘clashes'

As mentioned previously, colour blindness is one of the world’s most common genetic conditions, affecting one in 12 men and one in 200 women. If kit colours do not have sufficient contrast, whatever level a match is being played at – from a World Cup final to a children’s game at grass roots level on the school field – the sheer number of people affected with the condition means that there will probably always be someone with colour blindness watching the game who could potentially struggle to tell kits apart. 

For a televised game, the number of people watching and affected by a clash of kit colours could be enormous, but even if only one person watching on the sidelines of the school field is having trouble following some elements of the game due to an avoidable kit clash, then rugby is letting them down. 

"I’ve stopped refereeing now but that could be tricky. Red vs green, two teams in solid colours, both teams in dark socks. Spectating for pleasure brings similar issues: Wales vs Ireland is an annual ‘treat’! Saracens head to toe in red vs London Irish head to toe in green was a match that I lasted about five minutes with on the TV! Especially at the top level, kit choices can be sorted out very easily."
Simon Cole, Lifelong rugby fan and part-time grass roots coach

Other challenges for spectators

On the pitch

Equipment such as coloured line markings or the ball colour can be difficult to spot (see Differentiating the colours of equipment) but a major problem in some sports are substitution boards where both the red and green numbers can appear to be the same colour. Sometimes, for people with red deficiencies, the number in red can even be invisible. Information on the big screens can also be a challenge, especially any text or graphics in red or in red as a contrast to green. Red, green and orange LEDs can all appear as the same colour too.

TV coverage

TV graphics can be a minefield of confusing information depending upon how the competition organiser/host broadcaster and local country broadcasters choose to present information.

The most common problems are: 

  • team sheets, especially where players are highlighted in team colours against a green pitch 
  • league tables, especially ‘red’ for lost and ‘green’ for won 
  • general information which pops up as on-screen graphics during the course of match coverage, including:
    • pack weight information
    • possession statistics, e.g. pie charts using team colours
    • action areas highlighted in certain colours
    • kick information in colour, such as flight of ball/location of kicks made and missed
    • substitution information
    • information on sin bin timings and red cards
    • clock running over (turning red)
    • information in post-match analysis   

Attending a live event

For colour blind people who want to attend a live event there can be problems before they even leave their homes. Often websites contain information which is difficult to understand, such as when they try to purchase tickets, for example colour-coded seat pricing categories or available seat information may not be distinguishable. Problems can also arise in trying to make sense of colour-coded wayfinding information, including stadium plans and public transport maps, or local area maps for car parking information and cycle routes. For more information on match-day challenges in stadiums see Common challenges for colour blind people at live events. 

Kit clashes 

The most frustrating problem colour blind people experience in rugby.  

Kit clashes – i.e. combinations of colours which appear to blend together – are an overt problem for spectators, players, coaches, match officials and broadcasters and indirectly affect clubs and competition hosts or broadcasters through unintended impacts on the commercial interests of sponsors and advertisers. 

Kit clashes occur at every level of the game, the most notable recent examples being the Rugby World Cup 2019 semi-finals and the final of the European Rugby Champions Cup in 2020. Similar problems also occur in big tournaments and leagues, including Super Rugby, PRO14, Premiership Rugby and in lower divisions. Kit clashes often happen in school matches and in grass roots rugby.  

Kit clashes are an issue across the entire game. 

Although kit clashes are a huge issue for spectators, they can also affect some players on the field. See also the Participating in rugby section.

"There is a serious element to it. When I watch Wales vs South Africa, I see basically 30 strips the same. When I played (and if you make a line break and you’re trying to find support) some people pick up that really clear colour difference [but I don’t]. Or, if you’ve got a winger standing up against the crowd … you might not be able to really clearly pick out that player."
Mike Blair, Edinburgh Rugby head coach

Players and spectators are not the only people who need to be able to easily distinguish between the kits of the teams and to spot the match officials. Professionals working in the game, including coaching and pitch-side staff, commentators and TV pundits, rely on clear contrast between kit colours so that they can carry out their jobs properly. 

"I’m always nervous of trying to name the colours of jerseys because sometimes I cannot tell. I’m always quite happy to mention the fact I’m colour blind when I commentate because it removes any stigma."
Paul Mitchell, sports commentator

Top tips when selecting kit colours 

Try to avoid over-complicating your team’s kit colours. Maximising contrast between kit colours will avoid many potential clashes.  

Where possible teams should aim to have a white second kit or, where their home kit is white, a second kit in a strongly contrasting colour (avoiding pastel colours). The preferred combination of kits is a dark coloured kit against a white coloured kit. 

Points to remember: 

  • Colours which may appear to be strongly contrasting may not actually be contrasting to someone with colour blindness. Any easy way to work out if two kit colours are likely to ‘clash’ is to view them together in greyscale, either using computer software or on a smartphone camera set to Mono. 
  • When checking if kits contrast ensure kits are viewed in the setting where the game will be played, i.e. on the field not in the changing room, as lighting conditions (especially artificial light) affect how colours are perceived. 
  • Aim to avoid the following problem kit combinations 
    • Red v black; 
    • Red v green or orange; 
    • Black or dark blue v maroon 
    • Pastel colours, against each other or against white; 
    • Blue v purple or dark pink. 
  • Consider how all elements of a kit might appear from a distance. For example, a pastel shirt with dark shorts and socks could be confused with a dark top and white  
  • If your home kit is patterned or has shirt/shorts of different colours, select an away kit of a single colour which strongly contrasts with all the colours of your home kit. 
  • Avoid red or green single colour kits because it can be difficult to spot players against the colour of the pitch. Bright yellow is a prominent colour but dark yellow/gold can also appear the same colour as the pitch and similar to some reds and greens. 
  • Ensure shirt numbers contrast well against all colours on the back of your shirt.

Clashes between team kits are not the only problematic kit clashes – kits can ‘clash’ with the colour of the pitch, the colour of match officials’ kits and the crowds in the stands.

"Watching a rugby match when we have a set play and everybody’s on either the left or the right side of the ball, static, that’s not too bad to watch. But as soon as we get into broken play - kick chases, players running through, or a line break so you’ve lost the structure of the game and both sides are running in the same direction, that then causes a problem!"
Dave Pearson, former test referee
"[Colour blindness] forces you as a commentator to work even harder because you’ve got to try even harder to identify the player using the colour of the boots or the colour of the hair. You’re trying to call the players correctly, as the teams break you’re trying to check lines, you’re trying to check you’re calling the right teams the right way. The Glasgow-Cardiff game was possibly the hardest work I’ve ever done!"
Paul Mitchell, sports commentator

Kit clashes with the opponents’ kit

The following examples are not intended as a complete list of problem kit-colour combinations, but simply highlight some of the most common problem combinations. 

Some of the kit combinations which cause the greatest problems for colour blind people are set out on the following pages. Many different colour combinations can cause confusion, but the solution is generally as simple as one team playing in a white (light) kit and the other in a dark kit. 

Red v black (including stripes/patterned kit)

Red v green  

Perhaps the most common kit clash issue for rugby because of the number of teams playing in either red or green. This colour combination causes problems in every Rugby World Cup and Six Nations Championship and causes fans to switch off TV coverage or not even bother trying to watch known kit clash matches in the first place, especially Ireland v Wales in the Six Nations. 

Dark blue or black v maroon

"I’ve complained about strips before. If we have an option to wear white against dark blue, saying, ‘Why are we not playing in white as opposed to playing in black and dark blue?’ as I’d have issues with those colours as well."
Mike Blair, Edinburgh Rugby head coach
"I did a football match recently where I described the Germany manager’s shirt as black but someone pointed out to me it was navy."
Paul Mitchell, sports commentator

A pale colour v a different pale/pastel colour, e.g. pale blue v pink 

The European Rugby Champions Cup final between Exeter Chiefs and Racing 92 in October 2020 was an another example of a kit clash for colour blind fans.  

Green v dark grey

While some greens can be difficult to distinguish from some reds, other shades of green can cause problems with different colours. Bright green can appear the same colour as orange or yellow while dark greens can appear to be the same colour as grey.

"I can even struggle between Scotland and Ireland [on TV] due to lack of contrast."
Luke W, youth player, 19

Blue v purple v deep pink

Depending upon the exact shades of colours and the type of colour blindness someone has, blues, purples and deep pinks can all appear to be blue.

Kit clashes with the pitch

Some popular kit colours are very difficult to distinguish from the colour of the pitch itself for people with colour blindness. This is a particular issue when the entire kit is a single colour. The main problem kit colours which can be difficult to distinguish against the pitch, especially from long-distance TV camera angles, are:  

  • All-red kits; 
  • All-green kits; 
  • All-orange kits; 
  • All-grey kits; 
  • All-gold kits 
"With Ireland and Wales I can also struggle to tell both of the kit colours from the colour of the pitch."
Luke W, youth player, 19

The image on the left above shows how colour blind people can find all-red kits difficult to distinguish from the colour of the pitch. 

Kit clashes with match officials

Match officials’ kit colours are usually selected after the team kit colours have been decided. Ideally leagues and competition organisers should review kit options well in advance of games being held to ensure clashes are avoided, including with the kits of the match officials.  

At elite level match officials can often select a preferred kit from a range of options available for a particular tournament. Sometimes these kit colours can create unnecessary kit clashes with players’ kits. Often match officials are given a range of brightly coloured kits to choose from which aim to contrast with players’ kits, but many of these kits can cause confusion for players and spectators. 

Where match officials have the authority to select their own kit colours, they may need specific training on colour blindness to minimise kit clashes with team kits and/or competition organisers should provide guidance to match officials to ensure they do not select a kit which might cause confusion. 

Top tips for match officials

The charts below demonstrate how some commonly used match officials’ kit colours can clash with frequently used team kit colours.

When selecting kits for match officials: 

  • Always check for kit clashes in the setting and lighting conditions where the game is to be played using the Mono setting of a smartphone camera. Never check for potential kit clashes in the changing room because lighting can have a significant impact upon the perception of colours 
  • Traditional match officials’ kit colours  black, yellow, white, red and mid-blue – offer better solutions to avoid clashes with team kit colours than the more recently used which have tended not to be primary colours  
  • When in doubt ensure alternative kits (for all participating match officials) are available 
  • Check the preferred kit against both sets of team kits before making a final selection 

The charts below show on the left example shades/combinations of the most common team kit colours (top four rows – red, black, green, orange, gold) and the more recently used shades of match official kit colours (bottom three rows  blue/green, pink, purple, mid-blue) in normal colour vision. The image on the right is a colour blind simulation of these colour combinations and demonstrates that, as well as many common team kit colours causing problems for colour blind players and spectators (red v green or black, etc), many of the more recently used match official kit colours, such as pink and teal can also cause complications when selecting a strongly contrasting kit for match officials.

For example, pink match official shirts can be easily confused with blue or purple shirts and depending upon the exact shade, teal (bluish green) can be confused with pastel shades and white.  

To minimise the risk of match officials being confused as players by spectators or by players themselves, the best kit choices for match officials’ kits includes:

Outfield players’ kit colours  Match officials’ kit colours 
Red, black, green, dark blue, maroon, purple Yellow or white
White and pastel colours Black, mid/dark blue, purple, red
Orange, gold, yellow Black or blue 


Other factors which can influence ability to distinguish between kit colours

Kits can ‘clash’ between teams, with match officials’ kits and even with the colour of the pitch. How different kit colours are perceived can also be affected by other factors such as lighting conditions. Floodlighting, cloudy weather and bright sunshine/areas of shade can all have an influence on ability to distinguish between different kit colours.

"With floodlights there can be different sources of light and lots of shadows. In a rugby environment with 16 people around a ball and with four floodlights you can get a huge number of shadows. I can’t recall a game where it directly affected me but when you’re on the pitch shadows affect your perception of colour. It affects your speed of thought because you’re not sure what side players are on."
Dave Pearson, former test referee

The environment in which the game is being watched can also create challenges when trying to distinguish kit colours. For example, in the stadium and close to the action kits may be much easier to tell apart than they are from the top of the stands or on TV. The size of screen on which a game is being watched can also impact ability to tell teams apart because for colour blind people the smaller the patches of colour being compared, the easier it is for confusion to arise. 

Even the amount of dirt or mud on a kit can introduce some confusion. Mud (brown) can be confused with green, red, orange or gold. Even paint from on-pitch advertising which is transferred onto kits during play can be misinterpreted and add to confusion. For example, red paint on a white shirt can appear to be black. While this is not much of a problem for people with normal colour vision, for those with colour vision deficiency unable to distinguish between many colours this is just one more factor which can spoil enjoyment of elements of a game.

To ensure enjoyment of the game for all, whether as a spectator or player, it is important to consider kit colours when choosing a new kit for your team and when choosing which kit your team will play in for individual matches. 

The more colour combinations there are in a kit the more likely it is that kit clashes will arise. This can be an issue for your own players as well as spectators, so it is important to avoid kit clashes as far as possible. 

There should also be good colour contrast between the shirt colours of both teams and the match officials.

Points to bear in mind when selecting kit colours

Shirt colours 

What might seem to be good contrast to a person with normal colour vision (e.g. red against black) may have virtually no colour contrast to someone with colour blindness, so aim to avoid the problem kit combinations already mentioned and also note: 

  • Patterned shirts can complicate matters – as a general rule avoid both teams having the same colour on their shirts, even if one shirt has only a small element of that colour  
  • If shirts have a pattern remember to consider all the colours of the pattern/stripes when comparing with the colours of the opposition’s kit to decide whether or not there might be a clash  
  • Shirts with different coloured sleeves can cause problems for spectators in long-distance, fast-moving TV shots. Different coloured sleeves should be treated as patterned kits  
  • Where shirts are single colours which clash with the pitch (e.g. all-red/all-green/all-orange), consider introducing a strongly contrasting colour across the shoulders and sleeves (e.g. white stripes), so that your players can be followed against the pitch.  

Shirt numbers/team and sponsor logos 

To ensure shirt numbers are legible from a distance there should be strong contrast between the colour of the number and all of the colours of the shirt. In the image belowthe different coloured stripes on the shirt combined make it difficult for spectators to read numbers in fast-moving play but particularly difficult for colour blind people, including commentators. 

For patterned shirts, aim to minimise patterns on shirt backs and make use of large white panels with large numbers in black wherever possible.  

For single colour shirts some colours will not have sufficient contrast with background colour to be legible at a distance. Avoid combinations of red and gold, green and gold, red and green, red and black and gold and white in particularNote that the red number below is edged in white but this does not provide sufficient definition from the background colours to allow the number to be distinguishable. Placing the number on a solid white panel rather than outlining in white would improve prominence.

"If teams try to be clever with the numbers and the colours that they have on their kits, that’s when I have a problem – black and white stripes with red numbers, things like that, do not work for me. Also placing numbers lower down the shirts to accommodate sponsors and player names across the shoulders make it even harder to read the numbers because they are smaller. I tend to struggle where teams have badly designed numbers on their jerseys, especially when the numbers are obscured by hoops or stripes. I particularly struggled with Treviso in PRO14 who wore green and white hoops with red numbers. I couldn’t tell the 12 from the 13 or 15, or the six from the eight. Gold numbers on a light jersey also don’t work for me, the contrast just isn’t there."
Paul Mitchell, sports commentator

Similarlytake care that your team logos or shirt sponsor logos contrast strongly with shirt colours to maximise prominence. Refer to the section on Designing for colour blindness for further information. 

Shorts and sock colours  

Short and sock colours can also play a part in making a game easier or more difficult for colour blind people to follow or participate in. 

Strong contrast between short colours and shirt colours is often the only means colour blind people currently have to tell teams apart, but where shirt colours can appear to be the same to colour blind people, relying on having different short colours for each team is generally an unsatisfactory solution. 

"I don’t even realise if players wear different sock colours. When I’m watching, I’m watching at chest/head level."
Dave Pearson, former test referee

Of all the above examples, the worst problem is when both teams wear an entire kit in a single colour, for example all-red (shirt/short/socks) versus an all-black kit, or when both teams wear the same colour shorts and clashing shirt colours.

This is because if shirt colours cannot be distinguished, colour blind supporters (and players) can only tell teams apart by shorts/sock colours. If shorts and socks also clash, then there is no means for colour blind players and fans to tell the teams apart. Some recent research in football has shown that players with normal colour vision can be slower to react when kits are ‘crossed’, for example red shirts and white shorts versus white shirts and red shorts. See Finding Neymar  for further information.

Finally, it might seem obvious but new kits are often designed on computer screens against a white background whereas matches are played against a green pitch  so check proposed new kit designs against a grass-coloured background (for people with normal colour vision). Thenif your kits might be watched on TV, view at small scale (to replicate watching on a tablet or smartphone), then review the design against grass in greyscale (for people with colour blindness) before signing them off.