Research into online hate in sport is a growing concern among fans, journalists and sports professionals alike. It is therefore fitting that academia is rising to the challenge posed by this issue, with a burgeoning body of research focusing on online hate across a variety of sporting contexts. Over 50 peer reviewed papers have been published on this issue in the last 5 years. However, while there is much insight collected across this body of work, there is still a glaring gap when it comes to research when it comes to sports fans’ experience of online hate.
Most of the research examines instances of fans engaging in online abuse of athletes, analysing the content of the abusive posts and the wider context regarding the various prejudices, sporting cultures and online communication platforms involved. There is little attention paid to (A) fans experiences of, and feelings concerning, the issue of online abuse in their sport, and (B) first hand accounts of the motivations and opinions of fans who have perpetrated online abuse.
This lacuna was one of the foremost concerns of the TOHIF project when we devised our Football Supporters Survey. The survey seeks out the views of football fans on online abuse, fan activism and the general experience of following the game online. Specifically, it features questions on the frequency of incurring online abuse from other fans, what issues tend to trigger such abuse, and the emotional impact of being on the receiving end of these attacks. From this data, we hope to expand the conversation on online hate in sport beyond headline-grabbing incidents of players being abused by fans to develop a wider and deeper picture of the underlying culture of online rancour and transgression in discussions of sport.
Additionally, the survey features a question toward the end on whether participants have ever engaged in online abuse of others. Participants who answer ‘Yes’ are asked a follow-up open question on their motivations for doing so. Through the gathering of data concerning the answers of this question, TOHIF aims to develop research outputs on the factors which shape the mindset of abusive fans and, consequently, what can be done to effectively mitigate such factors.