Female athletes in crosshairs for online abuse, according to World Athletics

Online abuse during July’s world championships in Oregon was overwhelmingly directed at female athletes. — Reuters

PARIS: Online abuse during July’s world championships in Oregon was overwhelmingly directed at female athletes, with two competitors – a man and a woman – accounting for 40% of all abuse detected, World Athletics said on Dec 2.

In a study conducted during the World Athletics Championships in Eugene to identify and address abusive comments sent to athletes via Twitter and Instagram, findings reveal that sexualised and sexist abuse – overwhelmingly targeted at female athletes – made up over 40% of all detected posts.

The accounts of 461 competitors were monitored between July 10-Aug 1 in a bid to detect any abuse leading in and out of the championships, as well as during the event itself.

Some 427,764 posts and comments on Twitter and Instagram were captured for analysis.

The study revealed that 27 of the 461 tracked athletes, including 16 women, received targeted abuse with Twitter the preferred channel, accounting for almost 60% of detected abuse.

Two athletes (one male and one female) received almost 40% of detected abuse between them.

World Athletics said abuse “tended to be driven by events outside of competition – athletes were targeted over controversies associated with athletics, but not necessarily driven by results in the stadium”.

“The results of this study are disturbing but it’s important that we know where and how our athletes are being abused on social media so we can take steps to protect them and prevent future occurrences,” World Athletics president Seb Coe said.

“There is no place for abusive behaviour in our sport and we need to send a clear message to those who think athletes are fair game for this mistreatment. We won’t hesitate to sanction individuals who abuse our athletes where we can identify them.”

The study said that “60% of all detected online abuse was sexual or racial in nature with racism comments depicted in the form of offensive deployment of the N-word, and in the use of monkey emojis against black athletes”.

“When abuse types are broken down by gender, half of all abuse targeting female athletes was of a sexualised nature.”

As part of the analysis, it added, all flagged abuse was placed into categories of seriousness, each with recommended actions.

“59% of abusive posts were deemed to warrant intervention from the social platforms, with 5% considered so egregious that World Athletics is considering further sanctions against these individuals including sending evidence and reports to national law enforcement agencies.”

The study is the second of its kind in athletics following the Online Abuse Study that World Athletics conducted during the Tokyo Olympic Games, which revealed “disturbing levels of abuse of athletes and unequivocally highlighted the greater levels of abuse female athletes received in comparison to their male counterparts”. – AFP

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