2023 Women’s World Cup players targeted with “prolific” homophobic abuse online

LYON, FRANCE - 7 JULY, 2019: Megan Rapinoe of USA waves after the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup Final match between USA and Netherlands.
LYON, FRANCE - 7 JULY, 2019: Megan Rapinoe of USA waves after the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup Final match between USA and Netherlands. Photo: Shutterstock

Homophobic online abuse directed at players in the 2023 Women’s World Cup was “prolific,” according to a new report, with the U.S. Women’s National Team receiving more hate than any other team.

This week, FIFA and global players’ association FIFPRO released an analysis of data collected during this year’s Women’s World Cup by FIFA’s Social Media Protection Service (SMPS), a tool launched last year to help protect participating teams, players, officials, and other stakeholders from online abuse during tournaments.

According to the report, SMPS analyzed 5.1 million social media posts and comments during the tournament in Australia and New Zealand from July 19 through August 21. The service’s Threat Matrix AI program flagged 103,000 of those for human review, and 7,085 were verified as abusive and reported to social media platforms in which they appeared. Over 87 percent of those messages were posted on X (the platform formerly known as Twitter).

FIFA and FIFPRO’s analysis found that one in five players were targeted with discriminatory, abusive, or threatening messages, with nearly 50% of detected verified abusive messages containing homophobic, sexual, and sexist rhetoric. The report also found that players in the 2023 Women’s World Cup were 29% more likely to have been targeted with online abuse than male players in the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

Of the 19 specific forms of abuse indicated in the report, homophobia was the second most prolific, accounting for 20.4% of all abusive messages and behind only “gender abuse” at 23.31%. Only 0.53% of the messages and comments analyzed contained transphobic rhetoric.

The report also indicated that the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) was targeted more than any other team in this year’s Women’s World Cup. “The profile of the USA squad (coming into the tournament as winners of the previous two tournaments), made them a target for online abuse,” the report states. “This was heightened by the perception of players not singing the National Anthem being called out as unpatriotic and anti-American.”

If fact, online hate directed at players spiked on August 6, when the U.S. team was eliminated from the tournament after out player and LGBTQ+ rights advocate Megan Rapinoe and two other players missed penalty kicks in a match with Sweden. At the time, former President Donald Trump was one of the many troll who took to social media to blame Rapinoe and being “woke” for the team’s defeat.

According to the report, the U.S. players received double the amount of online abuse than Argentina, which received the second most abuse. The U.S. team also receive more homophobic abuse than any other team.

Additionally, the report specified that out of all players, one on the U.S. team and one player for Argentina were targeted more than all the rest, though the report did not name the players.

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