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What are the triggers for online abuse in sport?

This step examines the triggers for online abuse in sport.
Digital collage illustrating online abuse, angry person standing, in place of his head a screaming mouth.
© Shutterstock

This step examines the triggers for online abuse in sport, highlighting factors such as fans’ frustration over performance, rivalries, and societal tensions.

Online abuse can be triggered by a number of factors. It typically depends on the characteristics of each sport and the specific context in which the abuse occurs. However, we can identify factors that are likely to lead to abuse.

Fans vent their frustration at poor performances and/or unfavourable results. Obviously, players and management will bear the brunt of this but officials who impact the final result in any way are likely to trigger abuse.

Rivalries, whether they are local derbies or teams with a recent history of tension can also create scenarios in which abuse is likely to occur. This very much depends on the fan culture. Tensions that used to play out within the confines of the stadium and the match that took place, very much play out on social media 24/7 now. Constant rolling coverage and back and forth between posters accelerates this culture of abuse.

Anyone could have predicted that English players, regardless of their race, would receive abuse for losing the Euro 2020 final. Unfortunately, we also know that because the players who did miss the crucial penalties were black, the abuse they received was likely to be framed in racial terms.

Consequently, it is unfortunate that when a flashpoint (even something positive that happens) occurs in sport we know that if any of the protagonists (not just the athletes) within the context of the flashpoint are non-white, female, homosexual or identify within other marginalised demarcations, then they are overwhelmingly likely to receive abuse.

FIA Girls on Track participant. © FIA Girls on Track

Abuse does not just occur within the vacuum of the sporting universe either. The discriminatory (and other contexts) of abuse are inevitably tied into broader societal culture wars. One prominent example is the reaction to players from various sports taking the knee for racial justice before games in NFL and football games. Engagement with social issues like this inevitably triggers abuse.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that other factors such as betting have an impact on the level of abuse athletes receive but researchers have not yet investigated this relationship empirically. The reality is that there are a number of direct and indirect factors that influence online abuse and further research is needed to unpack the complexities of it.

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Online Abuse in Sport

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