Home » RESEARCH; Nine in 10 elite sportswomen have experienced gendered online harm

RESEARCH; Nine in 10 elite sportswomen have experienced gendered online harm

“Popular sports for women like netball, tennis and golf receive considerable online backlash, and elite sportswomen across a wide range of sports (such as fencing, cheerleading, sailing, shooting, surf lifesaving and ice hockey) are being harmed through online interactions.”

by Narges Mohammadi

Nine in 10 elite sportswomen have experienced some form of gendered online harm, including 87 per cent in the past year.

This alarming data comes from a study by researchers at Deakin University who surveyed 138 professional and semi-professional athletes in Australia from 32 sports.

Results showed that women of all profiles, and across all sports, were affected by online abuse such as trolling. Eighty-five per cent said their wellbeing had been affected by online harm, and two in three felt unsafe.

“Our results debunk the myth that it is sportswomen from team sports historically played by men (like Australian rules football, rugby league, rugby union, soccer) who are the main targets of online abuse,” researchers said.

The most common examples of gendered online harm were personal insults (81 per cent), hate speech (62 per cent), attempts to embarrass (60 per cent) and both general and sexual harassment (50 per cent and 39 per cent respectively).

The interviews and extended survey answers, as part of the research, revealed a wide range of online harms. Some examples of comments elite sportswomen have received are “Go home and wash the dishes and raise a child” or “Juniors can kick further”, or even “trashy whore”.

One athlete said the fact that they were from the LGBTQI+ community, made them a target of abuse as “that tends to be a topic that people think is easy to have a shot at… ‘of course you play rugby and play cricket, you’re gay, you know, that’s what you do’.”

Another athlete said abuse came from “body shaming, due to uniform dresses being too short, showing too much, not for her body type, not attractive”.

One in four elite sports women have experienced online homophobic abuse, and one in five experienced racist abuse. Also, two in three elite sportswomen changed their online behaviour in response to experiencing online abuse.

One in 10 athletes still reported closing their online account (permanently or temporarily) to avoid online harm.

In the last year, 89 per cent of athletes using X (formerly Twitter) experienced harm, as well as 88 per cent on Facebook, 85 per cent on TikTok and 83 per cent on Instagram.

Also, 81 per cent said that experiencing online harm affected their economic opportunities.

Sport organizations are aware of the importance of athletes’ use of social media, with one respondent saying they “do a social media presentation at the start of the seasons and a lot of  it, sadly, is around like the girls, making sure that their profiles are private, that they don’t get involved in these heated conversations, that they don’t engage. And it’s like, but they haven’t started it.”

Along with the report’s findings, researchers have offered some recommendations for sporting organizations to better support their elite sports women.

These include strengthening their understanding of the diverse forms of online harm and its impacts, improving reporting pathways for athletes, developing a range of supports and resources about online harms as well as fostering a safe environment to build trust and encourage conversations with athletes.

Source: Women’s Agenda

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