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May 4, 2021 3:32 pm

British Soccer Clubs and Players Lead Social Media Boycott to Stop Online Abuse

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

Aston Villa’s Anwar El Ghazi shoots at goal Pool via REUTERS/Michael Steele

Soccer leagues, organizations and players in the United Kingdom led a four-day boycott of social media that began on Friday in protest of racist online abuse.

Those who participated in the boycott included the English Football Association, English Premier League (EPL), English Football League, Women’s Super League, The Football Association Women’s Championship, the Women In Football group and the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA). British soccer player, managers and referee bodies also stepped away from social media from Friday through Monday, including the anti-discrimination group Kick It Out.

Other English sports — cricket, rugby, cycling, tennis and horse racing — joined in, as well as the Premier League’s British broadcasters, British Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton, and Prince William, who is president of The Football Association. The boycott also attracted international organizations and athletes, such as FIFA, UEFA, The International Tennis Federation (ITF) and International Tennis Integrity Agency (ITIA), and Argentine soccer player Lionel Messi.

A number of the groups posted on social media a statement that read: “Across the weekend, football, wider sport, organizations and individuals across the world united to boycott social media to demonstrate our collective anger. But this won’t eradicate abuse on its own. We will continue to challenge social media companies to make changes to their platforms, urge Government to introduce strong legislation quickly and request that individuals call out and report online abuse when they see it. #StopOnlineAbuse.”

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They called on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to “use their power to affect change and ensure there are real-life sanctions for online hate” and listed steps social media companies must take to eradicate online abuse.

The EPL said that while boycotts would not completely erase online abuse, it would “demonstrate that the game is willing to take voluntary and proactive steps.”

ITF President David Haggerty said: “Time and again we see the devastating impact that online abuse, threats and discriminatory language has on professional athletes, coaches and officials, not only in tennis but across sport. The level of abuse individuals are forced to endure is completely unacceptable, which is why we are joining this boycott and calling on social media companies to act now to protect individuals who are merely doing their jobs.”

“I personally feel this could be the first of a series of boycotts,” said Simone Pound, head of equalities at the PFA. “We can do this every week if we have to. This is not going away. They have to listen to us.”

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