How to recognise online abuse in sport
Online abuse is behaviour that uses digital technology to threaten, intimidate, menace, bully, harass, humiliate or offend someone.
It can happen on all types of online platforms and communication services, such as social media sites, messaging services, chat forums, gaming platforms and apps. The harmful content could be a post, comment, text, message, chat, livestream, meme, image, video or email.
Some types of online abuse may not seem too bad if they happen only once, but if there’s ongoing abuse or the content is shared widely it can become seriously harmful to the mental or physical health of the person targeted. It can also stop them participating in sport.
Here are some examples.
Teasing, name calling and putdowns
Making fun of someone is a type of bullying, but the person responsible often claims it’s ‘just a joke’ and that the person targeted should ‘toughen up’.
For example: someone posts a meme of a player missing a goal to make fun of them, then continues to pick on their mistakes while ignoring everyone else’s.
Prejudice and hate
Racism, sexism and homophobia are just some of the prejudices that people spread online.
For example: a sports fan sends a direct message to a coach that says, ‘your coaching lost the game – go back to where you came from’.
This is when someone mocks or criticises the shape, size or appearance of another person’s body.
For example: a training photo of a gymnast returning to form after an injury is shared on a club social media page. Someone in the comments says they look like an elephant and others add similar comments.
Trolling is when someone online deliberately provokes an argument or emotional reaction from another person.
For example: a parent is annoyed about the squad selection announcement on the team’s social media page, and posts comments saying the selectors are biased. Then the parent finds the personal social media accounts of one of the selectors and continues to send critical comments directly.
Threats and pile-ons
A threat is when someone says they intend to cause harm to another person. If threats or other types of online abuse are escalated by more people joining in, it becomes a pile-on.
For example: after a player gets into a fight on the field someone posts a video of it and tells other teams to ‘take them down’ in the next games. Others share the video and add comments encouraging the attacks.
Doxing is when someone’s personally identifiable information is intentionally shared by another person without consent, causing privacy and safety concerns.
For example: someone finds out a popular player’s personal phone number and shares it on a fan website.
Unwanted or unsafe contact
This is any type of online communication that makes someone feel uncomfortable or unsafe. It includes being asked inappropriate or personal questions, or receiving unwanted nudes. This contact can come from a stranger or someone you know.
For example: a young player airdrops ‘dick pics’ to others at a training camp, making them feel uncomfortable and scared.
This is when a person keeps constant track of someone else online in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable, worried or threatened.
For example: an athlete starts receiving direct messages from an unknown account after every sport event, saying things like ‘I was watching you today and you played so bad’. These messages escalate and start happening after every training session too, and say ‘I was there today, watching you – you’re such a lousy player’.
Sharing a nude or sexual image or video without consent
Sharing an intimate image or video without the consent of the person shown is a type of image-based abuse and it’s illegal. Threatening to share it is also illegal.
For example: someone from the club takes a video of different members in the team naked in the change rooms, then shares it online to humiliate them.
This is a type of image-based abuse when someone tries to blackmail another person over their intimate images or videos. If you’re being blackmailed, don’t pay or give the blackmailer more money or intimate content. Stop all contact with them. Go to our special advice on how to deal with sexual extortion.
For example: someone claiming to be a fan sends a player a ‘sexy pic’ in a direct message and convinces them to get sexual via video livestream. They record it and then threaten to share it with all the player’s social media contacts unless they send money.
Child grooming and sexual abuse
These are serious crimes that need to be reported to the Australian Centre for Countering Child Exploitation immediately. ‘Grooming’ happens when a sexual predator tricks a child or young person under 18 into thinking they’re in a close relationship, so they feel OK about sending nudes or getting sexual with them on camera. The predator might also use an online platform or service to lure the child or young person into meeting in person.
For example: an adult trainer asks a young athlete to send a topless photo, explaining they’d like to ‘check on how the strength training program is going’.
How to deal with online abuse in sport
Online abuse is never OK, and eSafety is here to help. In some cases, the person responsible for the online abuse may be another member of your sport. Other times it may be a non-member or someone completely unknown to you. No matter what the situation is, experiencing online abuse can be seriously distressing.
Remember, you don’t have to deal with online abuse on your own. It’s a good idea to talk to someone you trust, like a teammate, friend or family member. They can also help you report the abuse.
If you experience online abuse:
Contact your sport organisation for help – they may have policies around online safety in place.
Follow the steps to report serious online abuse:
- Collect evidence – take screenshots of what has happened and where.
- Report it:
- Harmful posts, comments, messages and profiles should be reported to the online platform or service first. If they don’t help, and the abuse is very serious, report it to eSafety.
- Sharing or threatening to share an intimate image or video of you without your consent is image-based abuse – it can be reported to eSafety immediately unless you’re being blackmailed. If you’re being blackmailed, go to our advice on How to deal with sexual extortion.
- Stop contact, tighten your security settings and prevent content from being shared further.
- Get more support – with strategies to manage the impacts of cyberbullying, adult cyber abuse or image-based abuse. You can also find counselling and support services that are right for you.
Find more detailed advice on how to deal with online abuse in sport if this happens to you or a targeted member in your sport.
You can read our 8 ways to stay safe online in sport to learn different strategies for safer and more positive experiences online. You can also take a look at specific online safety scenarios for athletes and competitors, coaches and officials, administrators and parents.
You can find more advice and support about online safety across the website:
- The eSafety Guide has safety and reporting advice about popular apps, games, social media and other online platforms.
- Collecting evidence and how to take screenshots on a Mac, Windows PC, iPad or iPhone, or Android device.
Check out our Key Topics section for more online safety advice, including dealing with fake news and misinformation, setting up multi-factor authentication to protect your personally identifiable information from identity theft and unwanted or unsafe contact, and how to manage your digital safety settings.
You can also get help and support from one of these counselling services
5 to 25 year olds. All issues. Confidential phone counselling available all day, every day. Online chat available 24/7, 365 days a year.
All ages. All issues. Phone counselling and online chat available all day, every day.
Last updated: 01/11/2023