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In the sporting spotlight

In the sporting spotlight
In the sporting spotlight

Many athletes, competitors, coaches, officials and administrators find themselves in the public spotlight. It may be for just a short time, or you may become well-known at a local, national or international level. 

No matter the situation, it’s important to know how to stay safe online and be aware of risks you may come across while you’re in the sporting spotlight.

On this page:

What is online abuse?

For those with a high profile, being online is a great opportunity to communicate publicly, make connections, increase the reach of your voice and develop your profile and reputation.

Unfortunately, being well-known also increases the risk of online abuse. Athletes, competitors, staff and volunteers across all sports can be targeted by abusive posts, comments and messages – including threatening, racist, sexist and homophobic content.

eSafety research and reporting trends show there are some people and groups who are at higher risk of experiencing online harm. This includes women, First Nations peoples, people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities, people who identify as LGBTIQ+ and people living with disability.

Some types of abuse may not seem so bad if they happen only once – but if they are ongoing or if harmful content is shared widely, they can have serious mental and physical impacts. This is why eSafety helps deal with serious forms of harm such as cyberbullying of a child or young person, adult cyber abuse (18 or older) or image-based abuse (sometimes known as ‘revenge porn’ or ‘sextortion’).

Understanding how to recognise different types of online abuse can help you work out what’s happening to you.

What are the impacts?

No matter how you identify or what community you’re part of, online abuse can quickly intensify in scale and nature, especially if you’re well-known. It can feel deeply personal and affect your physical and mental health, sense of safety, and performance during your sport and in other areas of your life.

Unfortunately, some people who are targeted by abuse feel they have to censor themselves online, step back from public conversations and even leave their sport to avoid negative online experiences. But that doesn’t have to be the case for you.

It’s important to remember that online abuse is never acceptable. If you’re abused, it’s not your fault – it reflects badly on the person doing it, not on you. You don’t have to ‘tough it out’ on your own. There’s help available through the online platform and service that was used to abuse you, through eSafety, and through your sports organisation. And if you need more support, you can contact a counselling and support service that’s right for you. 

There are also strategies you can use to prevent, prepare for and deal with online abuse, to help you through.

How you can stay safe online while in the public spotlight

If you have a high profile as part of your sport, there are some useful things you can do to support your safety online.

A good place to start is by being aware of the types of risks and knowing what steps to take if online abuse happens to you. This general online safety advice for everyone involved in sport will help:

You can also follow these tips if you have a high profile in sport.

  1. Be aware of your online security and privacy

    Regularly reviewing online security and privacy settings is a good habit for everyone to get into, but it’s particularly important if you are in the public spotlight.

    The eSafety Guide has information on different features, reporting links and safety advice for lots of different games, apps, websites and social media, such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok. Each app is different and how your settings are customised can change often, so set aside time for a regular review.

    Avoid sharing your personally identifiable information such as your home address, email address, phone number or birthdate online. It could put you at risk of identity theft, cyberstalking, unwanted contact, sexual extortion or other online harms.

    Try searching your name, email address, phone number or address online to see what information is publicly available. Think about whether that information, and anything else in your profile or previous posts, could have an impact on your comfort or safety if it was used against you.

    • What does the content you have shared reveal about you? For example, have you posted a photo in front of a ‘sold’ sign after buying a house? Could you delete the photo or re-upload it with the details blurred, so people can’t work out where you live?
    • Are your passwords secure? Do you have multi-factor authentication set up? If not, make sure this function is activated if possible, especially for social media, emails and online banking, so it’s harder to hack your accounts. If multi-factor authentication is not possible, try creating strong passphrases for your accounts – this is a type of password that is made up of four or more random words.
    • Is location sharing enabled on your social media accounts and other apps? Try turning it off when you’re not using it, and checking your permissions for different apps, so people can’t track where you go and what you do.

    It’s also a good idea to create a separate professional social media account to interact with fans and followers, instead of using your personal account. That way you can keep strict privacy controls on your personal account, so only people you know can see those posts.

    Read more about how to keep your personally identifiable information secure while you’re online, as well as advice on a range of online safety topics

  2. Manage unwanted interactions

    Growing your online followers and connections can be important for many involved in sport. Think about adjusting the settings on your professional and personal accounts to help you limit unwanted interactions online. 

    This includes:

    • limiting those who can send you direct messages
    • muting notifications about content containing certain words or phrases, such as anything abusive, distasteful or triggering – Instagram, X (formerly Twitter), YouTube and some other apps allow you to do this (check The eSafety Guide for more advice on how to set it up)
    • only receiving notifications about interactions from people you follow
    • switching off social media in the lead up to events or important announcements.

    Find more advice on how to manage your online interactions across different apps, websites, games and social media in The eSafety Guide.

  3. Create a crisis plan

    If you’re targeted by online abuse, it can be overwhelming and may escalate quickly, so it’s important to have a plan in place beforehand. 

    Be prepared by:

    Having already thought out how to handle different types of situations from least to most severe might help you feel in control if an incident does occur.

    For example, how you react to a single insulting comment from one person is likely to be different to the way you react if a pile-on begins – this is when several online users attack you and encourage others to join in, quickly escalating the impact of the abuse. 

    You can look at our page on recognising different types of online abuse for more information. You can also find different scenarios and how to deal with them on our tailored pages for athletes and competitors, coaches and officials, or administrators

  4. Think about calling out online harm

    eSafety usually advises people not to respond to online abuse, because it can escalate the incident instead of ending it. Always give yourself time to assess whether it’s likely to be safe and constructive to express your viewpoint or highlight bad behaviour.

    Some people who have a high profile in sport choose to use the abuse directed at them as an example to raise awareness of the problem and encourage others to call out bad behaviour – often they post a screenshot of the abusive content with their own comment. If you do this, talk to your sport organisation first. Always remember to check that the username or account handle (starting with the @ symbol) of the person responsible has been blocked out before you post anything, otherwise you may trigger a new pile on against that person.

    If you experience online abuse, your sport organisation may want to make a public statement about the incident. This should be done in consultation with you, with your permission – and only if you are comfortable that you can cope with any other commentary the statement may cause. Read more about this on the tailored page for sport administrators.

  5. Learn more about online safety and promote positive experiences

    Many sport organisations offer online safety education for members. Take advantage of these programs to better understand the range of issues, and stay up to date on any changes, to help protect yourself and the team around you. This can help you communicate and reinforce positive online values with your wider audience online too. 

    You can also use the resources tailored for sport communities to find more advice and promote positive online experiences within your sport.

You can also get help and support from one of these counselling services

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Last updated: 01/11/2023