Online abuse risks turning stars from sport - Survey

90 per cent of sports bodies fear losing athletes to online abuse

04 Feb 2024 01:02pm
Photo for illustration purpose only. - FILE PIX
Photo for illustration purpose only. - FILE PIX

PARIS - Growing online abuse on social media risks pushing high-profile stars out of sport unless urgent action is taken, according to a new survey backed by major federations published on Thursday.

The federations also called for social media companies to do more to prevent or block attacks directed at athletes and officials.

Carried out in conjunction with 22 global sporting federations and NGOs including football's world body FIFA and motorsport body FIA, the United Against Online Abuse (UAOA) barometer examined the impact online abuse and hate speech was having on those in sport.

It found that 90 per cent of organisations believe some of their leading athletes might leave their sports as a result of online abuse.

Three quarters say stars are facing threats of harm against themselves or their families, while 66 per cent believe social media platforms should do more to tackle the abuse.

Indeed, 75 per cent of respondents said the support of social media companies in fighting the problem was "crucial to the long-term outcome of any campaign for change".

"Online abuse is a persistent issue within the sporting world," said FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem, who is a founding partner of UAOA.

The findings come following high-profile online abuse cases involving England women footballer Lauren James and recently-retired World Cup rugby referee Wayne Barnes.

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One of the main triggers for the FIA's launch of UAOA was the abuse suffered by a female steward from Spain at the Mexican Grand Prix in 2022.

"The survey findings highlight the importance of united anti-abuse efforts across sporting ecosystems and beyond," said Ben Sulayem.

"We already have the support of a number of sporting bodies and governments and are in discussions with other stakeholders to grow our support base."

The findings are based on responses from 22 international sporting federations and NGOs, including world football governing body FIFA, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and cycling's governing body UCI.

"This research provides us with a baseline for our work going forward," said Professor David Hassan, Principal Investigator for the UAOA Research Study.

"Now that we have established the extent of the problem across sporting federations, we are well-placed to address this issue and tackle its root causes."

Jorge Viegas, president of motorcycling's governing body FIM, added: "Our united approach is one of the best ways to limit this kind of abuse."

Boban Totovski, General Secretary of the International Esports Federation, said his organisation was "built on respect, not rage".

"Whether you're a pro player or a weekend warrior, let's spread positive vibes and make Esports a community, not a battleground," said Totovski.

"Level up your sportsmanship, not your toxicity. Remember, the real victory is respect, not burning books."

The findings and possible action to take will be discussed at a conference in Paris next May. - AFP