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USWNT players fielded most online abuse at 2023 World Cup, report says

‘Homophobia was prolific,’ the report states of online abuse toward players and staff

Jenna Watson-USA TODAY Sports

One in five players — 152 total — received targeted discriminatory, abusive or threatening messages on social media during the 2023 Women’s World Cup, according to joint findings from FIFA and world players’ union FIFPRO. U.S. players received over double the volume of abusive posts of the next-most-abused country, according to the study, with a few key players the primary target.

The report comes as part of FIFA’s attempt to protect players from abusive messages during the World Cup. FIFA has used the services at eight events over the past 12 monhts.

A total of 5.1 million posts were analyzed by humans, and something called Threat Matrix artificial intelligence, across major social media platforms like X (formerly Twitter), Instagram, Facebook, TikTok and YouTube. Over 2,000 accounts of players and coaches were monitored with the intent of preventing abusive messages from reaching athletes.

“Homophobia was prolific,” the report notes, with almost twice the percentage of such posts as seen at the 2022 Men’s World Cup. Twenty percent of all abusive posts were identified as homophobic, the report states, while over 13% were sexist and another 15% deemed sexual.

Of the accounts where location could be verified, 67% of the abusive, disciminatory or threatening accounces were deemed to be controlled by people located in North and Central America. August 6 — the day the U.S. lost a penalty shootout to Sweden to exit a major tournament in the Round of 16 for the first time — was identified as the most abusive day of the tournament, with a “pile-on” effect coming from figures like President Joe Biden offering commiserations to the team.

“The abuse that persists online impacts football players all over the world and it cannot be ignored,” FIFPRO president David Aganzo said. “This toxic online environment is a risky place to be in for players and it affects their mental health and wellbeing.”

The monitoring service was offered to all World CUp players as an opt-in. Posts identified as abusive would be hidden from the accounts of teams and players when possible, although some platforms do not allow replies to be hidden entirely.

The report found that political activism and politically motivated abuse were prominent, particularly in regards to the United States, which — as the report points out — will host the 2026 Men’s World Cup. There was also an uptick in abuse of referees, the report said, with the use of VAR likely fueling that trend.

“If there is one thing that footballers suffer from the most, apart from losing, it is all the abusive comments — the taunts, the insults,” Colombia star Leicy Santos is quoted as saying in the report. “Beyond what we do as professional footballers, we are people. Some players are able to put up with the outrageous abuse we receive online, but other players aren’t. It is a very sensitivei issue when it comes to mental health.”

Read the full report here.

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