Female athletes primary target of online abuse during Tokyo Olympics

World Athletics found that female athletes were the target of 87% of all online abuse during the Tokyo Olympics.

The study, released Thursday, also found that 65% of abusive posts warrant intervention by social media platforms and show “worrying levels of athlete abuse, including sexist, racist, transphobic and homophobic posts, and unfounded doping charges, “all at higher rates for female athletes compared to male athletes.

These findings follow the launch of World Athletics’ Protection Policy earlier this month, intended to “raise concerns that existing safeguards on social media platforms need to be more stringent to protect athletes. “.

“When we published our protection policy earlier this month, I said that athletic clubs, schools and community sporting environments should be safe and happy places for those who play our sport,” he said. World Athletics President Sebastian Coe said in a statement.

World Athletics is the international governing body for athletic sports, covering track and field, cross-country running, road running, walking, mountain running and ultra running.

“In a world where we share a large part of our lives online, this has to apply to the virtual world, as well as the physical world,” Coe continued. “This research is disturbing in many ways, but what strikes me most is that the abuse is aimed at people who celebrate and share their performances and talent as a way to inspire and motivate people. in the face of the types of abuse they suffer is unfathomable and we all need to do more to stop it Shedding light on this is only the first step.

World Athletics has followed 161 Twitter IDs of current and former athletes involved in the Tokyo Olympics, starting one week before the Olympics opening ceremony and ending the day after the closing (July 15 – August 9).

Using text analysis and AI-based natural language processing, the results were divided into 10 categories of abuse: homophobic, ableist, threat, corruption allegation, xenophobe, sexualization, transphobic, doping accusation, sexist and racist.

The study found the following:

  • 132 targeted discriminatory messages from 119 authors, with 23 of the 161 tracked athletes experiencing targeted abuse.
  • Of the 23 athletes who experienced abuse, 16 were female with 115 of 132 identified abusive messages directed at female athletes.
  • Female athletes suffered 87% of all abuse.
  • 63% of identified abuses targeted only two athletes – both black and female – while the two most common categories of abuse were sexist (29%) and / or racist (26%), accounting for 55% of all identified abuses. abuse.

“The entire USATF community is grateful to World Athletics for conducting this vital investigation which sadly confirmed what we have all known for a long time: American athletes are disproportionately targeted for abuse and hatred. on social media, ”said USA Track & Filed CEO. , commented Max Siegel.

“A growing body of evidence indicates that this is due to a huge increase in prejudice against race, gender and social status,” Siegel continued. “Put simply, this type of behavior is disgusting and utterly unacceptable. The USATF remains committed to working alongside World Athletics, our athletes and our constituent community, social media owners, the American Center for Sports Safety and law enforcement to eliminate abuse and make our sport safe and welcoming for all.

World Athletics says it will conduct additional research and used the results of this study to introduce an online abuse framework for its own social media channel, pledging to provide safer online environments for athletes who are free from abuse and harassment.

Contact Analis Bailey at aabailey@usatoday.com or on Twitter @analisbailey.

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