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A Zoom Conversation… Tackling online abuse within the football community

Love it or hate it, social media has become an integral part of our lives. However, there is a dark side that comes in the form of online bullying and abuse. Bullying is not a new thing, but the digital landscape does provide new challenges in tackling it.

Sadly, football is not immune to this online abuse. In light of this, an important conversation took place recently online, between some influential key players in the women’s football community, around the abuse football players receive online.

 The panel featured:

  • Beth Fisher - ITV Wales Sports Reporter
  • Catherine Walsh - Cardiff City Women FC
  • Jess Fishlock MBE - Welsh Women’s National Team and Coach
  • Nathasha Harding - Welsh Women’s National Team
  • Siobhan Chamberlain - Former Professional Footballer, England

The conversation centred around the recent online abuse that Cardiff City Women FC player, Catherine Walsh, received during and after the televising of the first ever live game from the Orchard Welsh Premier Women’s League. Catherine was amazed by the support that surrounded her following this, but stated "obviously it's not nice, no one wants to see anything bad said about yourself online – footballers expect criticism, but when it's something personal it’s hurtful, and I haven’t been on twitter since.” The online abuse that Catherine received following such a momentous and landmark game for the women’s league, understandably diminished the achievement. But Catherine refused to let it completely ruin her spirit, realising that history had been made for the League, and nothing was going to take that away.

Professional footballers Jess Fishlock, Natasha Harding, and Siobhan Chamberlain were shocked, but not surprised, at the abuse that Catherine received as they acknowledged that it is sadly something that they’ve all had to deal with throughout their careers. Former English Professional Footballer, Siobhan, talked about how it’s not just a problem in football, but in society in general. In English football, they’ve experienced that level of abuse since the WSL was established in 2010, and they hope that they can pass on their wisdom, and advice to the Welsh football community. Siobhan pointed out, as an example, that when they played the Euro’s, or Premier League games, the team players would make the decision to be on, or off, social media for the entire period. It was an unwritten code that all other players would respect, and any social content was not to be discussed with those that had decided to stay off social media.  

It is a double-sided coin however. With Women’s football becoming ever increasingly popular, there is no denying that social media plays its part in offering great exposure, and acts as a great platform to inspire the younger generation. However, it inherently comes with the online abuse that players can receive. “People need to realise”, Catherine Walsh goes on to say, “that abuse can affect each person differently”. Natasha Harding later goes on to say “you don’t want to give in to negativity, you could not show the matches on TV again, but the positives out way the negatives. I’ve built a thick skin towards it, but for us to grow the game and to inspire we need visibility. We can’t give in to the negativities.”

Jess Fishlock suggests that it’s all about approaching social media with your eyes open -“One of the most important things as you go through this new pathway is, you have to be aware of what social media can bring for you, and what you can bring for it. I use it as a platform for me to speak and for what I believe in. I don’t listen to anything about me or look or search for it. The only times that changes, in truth, is when it’s about Wales. We’re still growing, and I have to support it.”

It’s so positive to see these generations of female footballers come together and support each other, regardless of background or experience. But, the sad reality is, is that professional football players eventually get used to the never-ending tirade and abuse that can come from the results of a match, or perhaps a mistake that they may have made in a match, or their sexuality, race or even just their gender. That in itself, is a sad reflection on today’s society. Online abuse is unacceptable in any circumstance, and by acknowledging this, we are making the first step in starting to address it. #BeKind

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