Women's Sport: Newspaper closes comments on Australian rules football articles because of trolling

A newspaper in Australia has removed the comments section on articles about women’s Australian rules football (AFLW) due to sexist remarks. 

The Herald Sun has closed the comments since pre-season, following requests from players, commentators and fans alike. One article received some 300 comments “of a grossly sexist tone” the paper revealed in their explanation of the decision.

Matt Kitchin, their head of sport, said: “The least offensive of the comments runs to the tune of ‘get back in the kitchen’, and the worst cannot be repeated they are so objectionable.”

Australian rules football was professionalised for women in 2017 and this isn’t the first time it has been caught up in trolling. Tayla Harris, one of the leading footballers, has been the victim of social media abuse on multiple occasions including on a picture of her playing that was shared online.

It prompted the country’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison to call the trolls attacking her “cowardly grubs” last year. 

In February, Harris tweeted calling for action. She wrote: “How about  @AFL (+ other) pages start actually blocking people who comment discriminative, racist, homophobic, sexist etc comments. If you can’t control your urge to bully and harass you don’t deserve the privilege to share your unwarranted opinion.”

She added: “God damn I’ll give up my AFLW wage to employ someone to monitor this, public bullying is a ripple effect to young people in schools and communities that lead to mental health issues and suicide.”

In the article explaining the Herald Sun’s decision they addressed the trolls directly, writing: “If you don’t like something, no one is forcing you to read, or watch, or engage.

“Some of the comments that our athletes are subjected to are simply too vile to publish. This explains why the privilege of commenting on AFLW stories has been removed.”

The piece said that the ability to comment on AFLW articles will now only be available in exceptional and rare circumstances.

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