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Roles of different stakeholders in combating online abuse in sport.
Concept illustrating a network of connected individuals or parties.
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This step examines the roles of various stakeholders in combating online abuse in sport.

A variety of stakeholders play important roles in combating online abuse in Sports. In the related context of hate speech, the Council of Europe (2022) identifies four key groups – (i) public officials, elected bodies and political parties, (ii) Internet intermediaries, (iii) media, and (iv) civil society organisations.

We have already discussed Internet intermediaries. We will talk about the role of sport organisations under the heading of civil society organisations. This includes all types of sport organisations (e.g. international federations, clubs) and civil society organisations expressly established to combat online abuse in sports or otherwise e.g., Kick It Out, the Anti-Defamation League Sports Leadership Council, Show Racism the Red Card, and United Against Online Abuse in Sport Campaign led by the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile.

To paraphrase the Council of Europe, it should go without saying that all those involved in sports but also in these stakeholder groups should not engage in, endorse or disseminate online abuse in sports or otherwise, and should be encouraged to condemn it.

Public officials, elected bodies and political parties

These actors play an important role in developing and enacting laws and regulations to prevent and deter online abuse. It is critical that members of the legislature and the government, the judiciary, regulators, and other public authorities regularly review and update laws and regulations to address the rapidly evolving nature of online platforms and technologies.

Law enforcement and the judiciary should be allocated the necessary resources for law enforcement and support for victims of online abuse such as helplines, counselling, and legal assistance.

Public officials should ensure that there are adequate mechanisms to report and file complaints of online abuse including measures to ensure the anonymity and safety of victims who report online abuse.

Government agencies should ensure the education and awareness campaigns are funded and deployed not only to educate the public about the dangers of online abuse but also digital literacy programmes that support safe and responsible use of the Internet.

Elected bodies have significant powers of oversight and indeed budget allocation. They have the capability to monitor the effectiveness of public officials and conduct hearings and investigations to assess the effectiveness of laws and policies designed to combat online abuse. They also play an important role in allocating the necessary funding for initiatives and agencies, including law enforcement, to prevent and combat online abuse.

Online abuse is something no political party should tolerate, in sport or otherwise. Political parties have significant power to advocate for stronger protections and legislative efforts to combat online abuse through their policies and representatives.


The media, specifically journalists, are important stakeholders in sport. It is a cornerstone of democratic societies that the media and journalists enjoy freedom of expression. However, research shows that when some journalists experience online abuse, they may avoid writing about contexts or issues that could attract further online abuse.

The media can and do play an important role in building awareness of online abuse in sports and the harm it causes with the general public. They also have a responsibility to ensure such reporting is sensitive, accurate, fair, and comprehensive. Unfortunately, journalists are often also the focus of online abuse. They can receive abuse for merely reporting on a negative outcome in a sporting event, perceived bias and increasingly, in reporting on some of the socio-political issues that impact or are impacted by sport.

Consequently, media organisations, as employers, as well as other stakeholders need to consider how online abuse impacts journalists too. It is also important to note that media organisations are increasingly significant Internet intermediaries. As such, they too have a responsibility to implement and advocate for moderation services, tools and algorithms that can detect and flag abusive content. Many media websites and apps offer services for users to submit comments. It is important that media organisations develop and enforce effective commenting policies on their websites and apps to protect other users and journalists from online abuse.

Civil society organisations: Sport Organisations

Civil society organisations (CSOs) are non-governmental organisations and institutions that operate in the interest of the citizens but work outside of the governmental and for-profit sectors. They include a wide range of organisations such as community groups, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), professional associations, and foundations, amongst others. A wide range of such organisations operate in sport. These include international federations, sports clubs and associations, and advocacy groups.

International sports federations and organisations (e.g., the International Olympic Committee, the FIA, and FIFA) are governing bodies that oversee the regulations, organisation, and promotion of specific sports on a global scale, ensuring uniform standards, fairness in competition, and the development of their respective sports worldwide. As such, they oversee the development of comprehensive policies that can include clear definitions of online abuse, harassment, and cyberbullying. Furthermore, they develop codes of conduct for athletes, officials, fans and other stakeholders. Sports Federations have an important role in overseeing that these policies are implemented throughout all levels of their sport. The aim of international sports federations and the local or national bodies they oversee is the consistent application of such policies, to assist the law enforcement authorities where appropriate, and to demonstrate that online abuse is not tolerated or accepted in their sport.

Sports bodies should provide education and training programmes for athletes, coaches, officials, and other workers within their sport on recognising, responding to, and reporting online abuse and advocate for stronger laws and regulations to protect athletes and individuals involved in sports from online harassment and abuse. For example, the United Against Online Abuse campaign led by the FIA, has brought fellow sporting bodies together with such stakeholders. Their aim is to use their position to build a global coalition to tackle online abuse within the sport ecosystem. Similarly, the United Nations – Eradicate Hate Global Summit Working Group comprises sports bodies including representatives from NASCAR, MLB, and the NFL, amongst others. They developed the Plan of Action for Sports: The Game Plan, which emphasises identifying, reporting, and countering hate speech.

Sports clubs and associations implement policies developed by international federations at the local or national level, and typically tailor these policies to address the specific needs and challenges at their level or within their communities. However, the resources at this level for online abuse initiatives can vary dramatically depending on the size of the club or association, the sport, and location. As such, appropriate support for online abuse initiatives from international federations and national sports bodies and government is often critical.

Within the context of online abuse in sports, advocacy groups are organisations that actively work to raise awareness, support victims, and lobby for policies and regulations aimed at preventing and combating online abuse directed at athletes and sports professionals. They will often work with other sporting organisations to influence policy and best practice. For example, Kick It Out work directly with specific competitions (e.g. the English Premier League), federations (e.g. The English Football Association), the media (e.g. SKY) as well as the players themselves (The Professional Footballers Association). Educational initiatives are often a central strategy of such groups. These groups can also collaborate with legal authorities, and Internet intermediaries to create safer online spaces and promote a culture of respect and inclusivity.

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Online Abuse in Sport

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