Women's Sport: Social media abuse is rife in sport and it's time that changed

You don’t have to look very hard to find examples of trolling when it comes to women in sport. In fact, an Australian survey carried out last year found that female athletes receive significantly more abuse than their male counterparts.

Almost 27 per cent of comments on Facebook posts by leading Australian broadcasters were negative towards sportswomen versus eight per cent for sportsmen. 

Following the tragic death of Caroline Flack, attention is once again turning to how we all behave online, and sport should not be immune from this.

The sad news prompted Alex Scott to tweet about her struggles with trolls turning to therapy to cope, something that she wrote is “one of the best things I have ever done” and imploring her followers not to struggle in silence. 

She isn’t the only footballer to face this. The Professional Footballer’s Association told the BBC that players are deleting their social media accounts because of the stress it can create with its constant feedback loop that is often negative. 

In 2019, the number of footballers who accessed the counselling services offered by the PFA increased to a record high of 643 players – up by nearly 50 per cent on the year before.

It’s impossible to link trolling with these figures as a direct cause of strain, but with players leaving social media, it shows that even if sportswomen statistically receive more negative comments the impact of trolling doesn’t discriminate based on gender.

This is an ongoing problem and it’s a global one. Just this week Australian football player Tayla Harris has once again been the victim of trolls spurred on after rival player Stacey Livingstone criticised the player’s game.

Harris has been the subjected to trolling before too when the internet piled in on a photo capturing one of her signature kicks. After the photo was taken down due to the number of sexist and inappropriate comments, Harris reposted it in a defiant move. 

Teammates have said that they are checking in on her, but they shouldn’t have to be. Sportswomen are doing their jobs and it is about time they get the respect that they have long deserved. Criticism from a competitor is an expected part of the sport, not an invitation for social media abuse. 

The list of athletes impacted by social media abuse is endless – at the start of the year, Fallon Sherrock talked about her experience of being trolled after she suffered from a kidney condition that caused her face to swell. Pole vaulter Holly Bradshaw shared how she stopped wearing a crop top and pants to competitions because she was afraid of being trolled.

Criticism is a part of life and sport, but it doesn’t have to be cruel and it doesn’t have to come in the form of a pile on. We don’t own the sportspeople we love, however much affinity we might feel with a club, a player or a sport. 

Ultimately we are all better off for their dedication to the sports that they and we love. We would all be even better off if more respect was shown online.

Trolling is pervasive and it’s on all of us to stop it. We don’t need to criticise every error, every detail (not to mention the sexism that’s still all-too-common online).

However upset we might be with a defeat, it’s safe to assume that no one expects more from their sporting performances than the athlete themselves, after all, they are the ones dedicating their lives to their sport. 

Let’s start thinking more before we start typing. Being kind doesn’t take much, and we’ll all be better for it.

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