A recent study published by World Athletics (WA) revealed that female athletes competing in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics were the target of 87 per cent of all online abuse directed at Olympic athletes during the Games. According to WA, the results of the study indicate that more needs to be done to protect athletes from abuse on social media platforms.
Disturbing levels of abuse
The results showed that Olympians of all genders received shocking amounts of abuse from detractors online, including sexist, racist, transphobic and homophobic posts, and unfounded doping accusations. The authors note that this can heavily impact their performance in training and in competition.
The study tracked 161 Twitter handles of current and former athletes who were involved in this summer’s Olympic Games, starting one week before the opening ceremonies and concluding the day after the closing ceremonies, from July 15 to August 9. During that time, the researchers captured 240,707 tweets including 23,521 images, GIFs and videos, analyzing them for slurs, offensive images and emojis and other potentially abusive phrases.
In total, the results revealed 132 targeted discriminatory posts from 119 authors, with 23 athletes receiving direct, targeted abuse. Of those 23 athletes, 16 were women, and 115 of the 132 posts (87 per cent) were directed at female athletes. Non-white female athletes received the greatest percentage of online abuse, and the two most common categories of abuse were sexist (23 per cent) and/or racist (26 per cent) in nature.
“This research is disturbing in so many ways but what strikes me the most is that the abuse is targeted at individuals who are celebrating and sharing their performances and talent as a way to inspire and motivate people,” said WA president, Sebastian Coe. “To face the kinds of abuse they have is unfathomable and we all need to do more to stop this. Shining a light on the issue is just the first step.”
World Athletics clamping down on online athlete abuse
WA says they will be continuing to conduct research in this area and has “used the findings of this survey to introduce an Online Abuse Framework for its own social media channels to ensure they are environments free from abuse.” The organization has also pledged to remove all hate speech from the comments sections on their channels, block users who are posting abusive comments, report the most serious of cases to the relevant authorities and make sure their channels continue to celebrate diversity and equality in sport.
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