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STATEMENT: Abuse, Anonymity and Social Media in Global Sport

The recent surge in racist, misogynistic and homophobic abuse of sportspeople around the world is completely unacceptable and is the antithesis of developing a more equal, diverse and inclusive sporting ecosystem.

Our thoughts are first and foremost with those individuals that have been left to confront and process what can be a daily onslaught of abuse. This is not a problem that can or will be swept under the rug, nor accepted as some warped version of normality.

We fully endorse the recent demands by sportspeople, governing bodies, athletes and sports clubs for social media companies like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to do more to protect their users. The resources at the disposal of these vast multinational corporations dwarf that of pressure groups, charities, law enforcement agencies and even governments - they must deploy them to proactively protect victims of abuse and work more effectively in partnership with law enforcement to bring the perpetrators of hate speech to justice, quickly.

We also call on all stakeholders in our shared global sporting ecosystem to recommit to rooting out racism, misogyny and hate in all its forms by speaking up for equality, diversity and inclusion ever louder and ever more boldly.

However, equitysport is increasingly concerned by calls for the blanket introduction of identity checks for social media users. It is all too easy to find and advocate for simple solutions to complex problems, but broad brush ID checks for social media users risk isolating and locking out vast swathes of people from an important, and until now, universally accessible cultural discourse.

Over ONE BILLION people around the world have no formal proof of identification, and whilst thankfully, those affected by this in Western Europe and North America are exceptions to the rule, the same cannot be said for those in other parts of the world.

Of those without any form of identifying documentation, 81% live in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, and whilst it would be convenient to assume these people are not those accessing social media, over 63% live in (lower-) middle income countries, with less than a quarter coming from the lowest income countries in the world. Women, who are 40% more likely to have no formal ID over the course of their lifetime remain one of the most at-risk groups.

A blanket requirement for social media users to provide formal ID to access such platforms would risk shutting out over one billion already under-served people. Social media was developed as a tool to unite the world, and few mediums can boast the same level of universal access for the global masses.

When separated by vast physical distance, social media has opened up sport to the many - live sports results, news and information is beamed around the world, accessible by almost all, regardless of who you are, or where you come from.

It too, has provided oft-forgotten and underserved communities within global sport with a seat at the table and with access previously unattainable via conventional mediums. Few will forget the stories of Mr YouTube; Julius Yego from Kenya who used YouTube videos to teach himself how to throw javelin so successfully that he became both the African and Commonwealth champion!

It is also important to consider the unintended consequences of ID-checks-for-access on groups within our own locality who have long used online spaces as a place to create virtual anonymous identities that better match their inner selves, explore new versions of themselves and find acceptance whilst maintaining privacy and anonymity.

Beyond our borders, the legal and social protections afforded to such groups still don't exist in a great many places - the idea of submitting formal identification to an authority or company to simply access social media may prevent a large and potentially otherwise vulnerable cohort of people from using social media as a vehicle for true expression of themselves for fear of retribution or of being exposed.

It is right to call for social media companies to do more to tackle the scourge of racism and misogyny on their platforms. It is right to question their collective efforts thus far and in their reluctance to properly resource their moderation teams - but in our haste to provide protection to our sporting heroes at home, we cannot risk harming, isolating or locking out communities and groups the world over by ill-thought through blanket policies.

We, as an organisation, are upset and angry about the unashamed, hate-filled and ignorant vitriol and hate speech that has been targeted at sportspeople, and we're all too aware that this abuse is sadly, not a new normal, but has happened for many, many years.

It is tempting to find a single target for our collective anguish, and in social media companies, we have a target that is deserving of considerable criticism; but we must not lose sight of the true enemy in all of this, and that is intolerance, racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia and hate itself and those that are all too willing to peddle it.


equitysport is a UK-registered charity (1189559) that exists to advance and promote equality, diversity and equal opportunity in and through global sport. Through free-form development, education programmes and targeted advocacy the charity seeks an inclusive and equitable sporting ecosystem that lives up to the true values of sport.

Notes to Editors

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