'Disgusting and utterly unacceptable': Female athletes main target of online abuse during Tokyo Olympics

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

The study, published Thursday, also revealed that 65% of the abusive posts warrant intervention from the social media platforms and show "disturbing levels of abuse of athletes, including sexist, racist, transphobic and homophobic posts, and unfounded doping accusations," all at higher rates for female athletes in comparison to male athletes.

These findings follow the launch of World Athletics' Safeguarding Policy earlier this month intended to "raise concerns that existing safeguarding measures on social media platforms need to be tougher to protect athletes."

"When we published our Safeguarding Policy earlier this month, I said athletics clubs, schools and community sports environments should be safe and happy places for those in our sport," World Athletics President Sebastian Coe said in a statement.

World Athletics is the international governing body for the sports of athletics, covering track and field, cross country running, road running, racewalking, mountain running and ultra running.

Sebastian Coe speaks during a news conference after a meeting of the IAAF Council at the Grand Hotel in Vienna, Austria in 2017.
Sebastian Coe speaks during a news conference after a meeting of the IAAF Council at the Grand Hotel in Vienna, Austria in 2017.

“In a world where we share so much of our lives online, this must apply to the virtual, as well as the physical world," Coe continued. "This research is disturbing in so many ways but what strikes me the most is that the abuse is targeted at individuals who are celebrating and sharing their performances and talent as a way to inspire and motivate people. To face the kinds of abuse they have is unfathomable and we all need to do more to stop this. Shining a light on the issue is just the first step.”

World Athletics tracked 161 Twitter handles of current and former athletes involved in the Tokyo Olympics starting one week prior to the Olympic opening ceremony and concluding the day after closing (July 15 – Aug. 9).

Using text analysis and AI-powered Natural Language processing, the findings were broken down into 10 categories of abuse: homophobic, ableist, threat, corruption allegation, xenophobic, sexualization, transphobic, doping accusation, sexist and racist.

The study revealed the following:

  • 132 targeted discriminatory posts from 119 authors, with 23 of the 161 tracked athletes receiving targeted abuse.

  • Out of the 23 athletes who received abuse, 16 were women with 115 of the 132 identified abusive posts directed at female athletes.

  • Female athletes received 87% of all abuse.

  • 63% of identified abuse was directed at just two athletes – both black and female – while the two most common categories of abuse were of a sexist (29%) and/or racist (26%) nature, accounting for 55% of all identified abuse.

“The entire USATF community is grateful to World Athletics for conducting this vital survey which has confirmed unfortunately what we have all known for a long time: US athletes are disproportionately targeted for abuse and hate on social media," the CEO of USA Track & Filed, Max Siegel, commented.

“Increasing evidence indicates that this is driven by a huge rise in prejudice against race, gender and social status," Siegel continued. "Simply put, this type of behavior is disgusting and utterly unacceptable. USATF remains committed to working alongside World Athletics, our athlete and constituent community, social media proprietors, the US Center for SafeSport and law enforcement to eliminate abuse and make our sport safe and welcoming for all.”

World Athletics says it will be conducting further research and has used this study's findings to introduce an Online Abuse Framework for its own social media channel, pledging to provide safer online environments for athletes that are free of abuse and harassment.

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

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Female athletes main target of online abuse during Tokyo Olympics