Online Abuse Threatens Gender Equity in Sports

Although the Olympic committee made progress in balancing the total number of athletes that participated in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, online abuse may hinder gender equity in future Olympic events and sports overall. 

While top-level athletes are often targets of online hate, male competitors receive far less. A study conducted by World Athletics tracked the 161 Twitter handles of athletes during the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games and found that 87 percent of all online abuse was directed at female Olympic athletes. 

The vast majority of the 240,707 tweets examined contained comments meant to undermine the confidence of female athletes. Twenty-nine percent were sexist, and a quarter racist. One fifth contained transphobic, sexualized or ableist language. 

“This research is disturbing in many ways but what strikes me most is that the abuse is targeted at individuals who are celebrating their performance and talents as a way to inspire and motivate people,” World Athletics President Sebastian Coe said in a statement.

Seeing these statistics, it’s not surprising that top-level athletes such as American gymnast Simone Biles and Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka are taking a break for their mental health. 

On top of investing in the years of gruelling physical training required to compete in the Olympics, they now also have to defend themselves online during the games. 

“They are doing a double shift. They are doing the physical labor [in sport], then doing the digital labor, and that’s very much part of being an athlete today,” said Professor Holly Thorpe from the University of Waikato via The Swaddle.

In our work to amplify the voices of women and gender-diverse individuals, Informed Opinions is also developing strategies to combat the online hate silencing voices that are already discouragingly under-represented. Our #ToxicHush campaign is funding the development of a research app that will gather evidence making clear how pervasive the problem is, to help equip policy-makers and governments to deliver on that action.