Sportswomen face shocking levels of online abuse, in addition to other instances of sexism within their industry.
A recent survey carried out by the BBC has found that almost a third of elite sportswomen in the UK have been trolled on social media, revealing the shameful levels of abuse women athletes face online. The survey was completed by 1,068 women from 39 different sports that ranged from football to weightlifting, with 160 of the respondents saying that they had faced harassment on sites such as Instagram and Twitter.
This accounts for 30% of all respondents, and shows an increase of 14% on the last time the survey was carried out, which was in 2015. While the profile of women’s sport has certainly grown in the intervening years, with events like the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup gripping large audiences all around the world, clearly not enough has been done to combat the sexist attitudes many people still have about women playing sports.
Some respondents detailed the sorts of abuse they received, which very often targeted the athletes’ body image. As a result, 78% said that they are conscious of their body image. Other common comments centred around gender stereotypes, with athletes being told that they do not belong in sports, simply because they are women.
Elinor Snowsill, a Welsh rugby union international player, called this sort of online harassment “relentless”, as she told the BBC of the invasive ways in which social media users interact with her on a daily basis. She also said that the trolling she has experienced, including threatening comments and comments about her physical appearance, has come almost exclusively from men.
The survey also found that the vast majority of women in sport (86%) earn less than the UK’s mean annual gross pay of £30,000 a year, and that, while 93% of respondents believe that coverage of women’s sport has improved over the past five years, 85% still do not believe the media does enough to promote it.
It is clear that sexism in sports, both in the industry itself and coverage of it, is still a huge problem. This is a fact that is made even more stark by the fact that 65% of respondents said they had experienced sexism in their sport, but that only 10% reported it.
The online abuse sportswomen face is, unfortunately, just the tip of the iceberg, pointing as it does to a much wider issue elite women athletes face.
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