Sport serves as a revealing backdrop for the manifestation of hate speech and discrimination. Culture clashes and global socio-economic power struggles often ignite within the sporting arena and continue to smoulder long afterward. As a result, incidences of hate speech in sport have spread across digital platforms, with social media and online forums being used to circulate hateful, offensive, or discriminatory content. Policymakers, sport governing bodies, and grassroots anti-hate organizations now find themselves struggling to keep up with a rapidly changing online-landscape. The importance of addressing and combating online hate speech in sport is now an essential problem in maintaining integrity, diversity, and respect within the sporting community.
Recognizing the urgency of addressing this matter, the Tackling Online Hate in Football (TOHIF) team conducted a scoping review to provide an extensive overview of scholarship on this topic. The review served to provide a comprehensive compilation of previously employed research methodologies, case studies, and conclusions, identifying the breadth and depth of existing research, while also recognising key themes, gaps in knowledge, and areas for further research. In so doing, the review not only provided a concise overview of existing research in the field but also sheds light on areas and approaches in dire need of further examination.
The reviewed research consistently highlighted how the emotional elements intertwined with sport serve as a catalyst for the proliferation of hate speech on social media platforms. This revealed a noticeable shift from traditional message boards and fan forums to contemporary social media platforms, such as, Twitter and Facebook. These platforms have gained prominence as primary sources for real-time reactions to sporting events. This shift is not merely a matter of changing communication mediums; it represents a significant surge in cases of online hate speech, with Twitter (now “X”) being the most popular data source for researchers examining online hate speech in sport.
Importantly, this increase has had a profound impact on athletes, fans, and sport journalists, inflicting emotional scars and psychological distress, while also adversely affecting the mental health and overall well-being of those subjected to its vitriol. The scoping review sounds an alarm, signalling that sport governing bodies and grassroots anti-hate organizations need to take a more proactive stance in addressing this distressing issue. By underscoring the critical importance of recognizing the shifting landscape of online hate speech in sport, as well as the ongoing affects it can have on athletes, fans, and journalists, the review emphasises the need for creating safer, more inclusive, and respectful online environments for athletes, fans, and sport enthusiasts worldwide.
As TOHIF delves deeper into the alarming issue of online hate speech in sport, one question looms large: how can we effectively combat this pervasive problem? In the face of this escalating challenge, it is imperative to explore and evaluate potential strategies that can help us manage our online spaces. From technology-driven tools to education and awareness campaigns, these approaches hold the potential to transform the digital sport landscape into a safer and more welcoming space for all. The review presents the following prospective measures to address and combat online hate speech in sport:
Social Media Monitoring Tools
The deployment of social media monitoring tools is designed to identify and track instances of online hate speech, enabling sport governing bodies and anti-hate organizations to take action against those responsible. While not infallible, these tools serve as a potent weapon in the fight against online hate speech in sport. In the face of the rampant proliferation of online hate speech, such tools become a potent weapon, enabling a proactive response to protect the integrity of sport and the well-being of those involved.
Education and Awareness Campaigns
Many instances of online hate speech in sport stem from ignorance and a lack of understanding. Here, the implementation of education and awareness campaigns, based around enlightening athletes and fans about the far-reaching consequences of online hate speech, can contribute to reducing the prevalence of online hate as well as offering support and guidance to sporting organisations. In this way, these campaigns offer not only a means of prevention but also a means of nurturing a more inclusive and positive online environment.
While it is undeniable that both social media monitoring tools and educational awareness campaigns play a crucial role in tackling online hate speech, the perpetuation of hate online remains a multifaceted and persistent challenge. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that research concerning online hate in sport, both embraces and advances interdisciplinary cooperation within the academic sphere. While this approach is vital to counteracting the potential narrowing of intellectual perspectives, for brevity, we emphasize the following key recommendations for ensuring future interdisciplinary research in this area:
1. Expanding research beyond Western sport contexts.
2. Delving deeper into the examination of less-explored forms of prejudice.
3. Conducting research that considers the unique characteristics of specific sports and their connection to online hate.
4. Shifting focus toward niche and image-driven social media platforms.
5. Employing a greater range of primary research methods.
6. Investigating the connections between instances of online abuse and organized hate groups.