One in five players at Women’s World Cup were sent online abuse, Fifa report finds

Homophobic, sexual and sexist abuse accounted for more than half of the abusive posts

Jamie Gardner
Tuesday 12 December 2023 07:36 GMT
The USA suffered the highest volume of abuse
The USA suffered the highest volume of abuse (Getty Images)

One in five players at this year’s Women’s World Cup were the targets of online abuse.

New data published by Fifa found 152 players out of 697 whose social media accounts were actively monitored received targeted discriminatory, abusive or threatening messaging during the finals.

Homophobic, sexual and sexist abuse accounted for more than half of the abusive posts identified by Fifa’s Social Media Protection Service (SMPS).

Players at the finals in Australia and New Zealand were found to be 29 per cent more likely to be targeted for online abuse than their counterparts at the men’s finals in Qatar.

Players at the finals were given the opportunity to opt in to the SMPS moderation service, which can intercept and hide abusive messages from view.

SMPS scanned more than five million social posts in total, with 102,511 posts flagged by AI for human review. Of those, 7,085 were subsequently verified as discriminatory, abusive or threatening and reported to platforms.

While United States and Argentina players suffered the highest volume of abuse, the Fifa data found there were 637 verified instances of abuse linked to the final between England and Spain.

The study found spikes in abusive posts and messages linked to the news that members of Britain’s Royal Family would not attend the match, and to a good luck message from Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

The conduct of Spanish FA president Luis Rubiales following the final created a significant spike in abusive and misogynistic content, Fifa found.

Rubiales was banned for three years in October after he kissed Spain midfielder Jenni Hermoso on the lips during the medal presentation, having earlier grabbed his genitals in celebration of Spain’s victory while stood in the stadium’s VIP box.

The report contained a quote from Colombia’s Leicy Santos which read: “If there is one thing that footballers suffer from the most, apart from losing, it is all the abusive comments – the taunts, the insults.

“Beyond what we do as professional footballers, we are people. Some players are able to put up with the outrageous abuse we receive online, but otherplayers aren’t. It is a very sensitive issue when it comes to mental health.”

Fifa president Gianni Infantino said: “There can be no place on social media for those who abuse or threaten anyone, be that in Fifa tournaments or elsewhere.

“Through the Social Media Protection Service – which was introduced one year ago, with the support of FIFPRO – Fifa has helped reduce the exposure of players, teams and officials to online abuse and hate speech by reporting and hiding more than 400,000 comments.

“Discrimination has no place in football and no place in society. Together, we say: No discrimination!”

The analysis found that 67 per cent of the abusive posts originated from North America, with 21 per cent coming from Europe.

Fifa said all of the verified instances of abuse were reported to social media platforms but said the platforms’ response to dealing with abusive content was “sporadic”.

Evidence on the identity of account holders, where viable, has been presented to member associations and law enforcement agencies, Fifa said.

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