‘FIFA will always stand against hate being part of football’ — Gianni Infantino

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Football’s governing body, FIFA, has reaffirmed its commitment to combatting hate speech and abusive content on social media that targets players, coaches and officials.

“FIFA’s priority is to protect players and make football a safe space,” the organisation says.

To reinforce its commitment, FIFA marked the International Day for Countering Hate Speech by explaining how it has extended access to the Social Media Protection Service (SMPS) to all 211 FIFA Member Associations (MAs) in 2024.

This means it is available to MAs, including NZ Football, even outside of FIFA competitions, and a number of teams competing at UEFA EURO 2024 and the CONMEBOL Copa América 2024 have joined the SMPS, which is part of FIFA’s No Discrimination campaign.

Once registered, the SMPS protects the social media accounts of players, coaches, officials and teams from all forms of hate speech by hiding abusive comments.

It also stops their followers from being exposed to abusive, discriminatory and threatening posts, preventing the normalisation of these kind of actions.

“On the UN’s International Day for Countering Hate Speech, I want to strongly reiterate that FIFA will always stand against hate being part of football, and the social media protection service is an important tool that we can use in our battle to remove it from our sport,” FIFA president Gianni Infantino said.

“We have already seen how effective the service has been in FIFA tournaments, and it is only logical that we make it available to all 211 FIFA Member Associations — wherever and whenever they play. We need to protect all players, coaches, officials and teams from abuse, as well as their followers.”

Main photo: Gianni Infantino … ‘FIFA will always stand against hate being part of football.’ Photo credit: FIFA.

Since it was launched at the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar, the SMPS has analysed 30 million posts and comments on 3,381 player and 160 team accounts across 11 FIFA events, including tournaments, qualifiers and friendlies.

The service has hidden 2.6 million abusive comments from public view, protecting the intended target from potential psychological harm.

The most violent abusive content — a total of 30,883 cases — has been reported to social media platforms, triggering real-world actions, including account suspensions.

READ MORE: Report reveals levels of social media abuse of players at FIFA Women’s World Cup >>>>

Strengthening the link between the football authorities and the respective justice system of each MA is critical to take the fight against online abuse forward.

Safeguarding is part of the memorandum of understanding (MoU) which FIFA has signed with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and which was renewed in 2023.

“Abuse, racism and hate speech — both online and offline — have no place in football or in life,” UNODC executive director Ghada Waly said.

“They tarnish the integrity of the sport and affect the mental well-being of players, coaches, and officials. We must ensure football remains a safe and inclusive space for all, especially women and girls who are at greater risk of gender-based violence.

“I commend the stance taken by FIFA to tackle online abuse and racism. UNODC is committed to eradicating all forms of discrimination in sport for a more peaceful world.

“Together, let us preserve the spirit of fair play and respect that is fundamental to the game, so that everyone can enjoy football and life free from harassment, abuse and discrimination.”

At the 74th FIFA Congress in Bangkok, Thailand, in May 2024, Infantino received an overwhelming response to his rallying call for all 211 FIFA MAs to take a united stand against racism.

The German Football Association (DFB), the German Football League (DFL) and the German Olympic Federation (DOSB) have teamed up with local law enforcement in a bid to tackle online abuse.

The Royal Belgian Football Association (RBFA), which uses the SMPS for its own social media channels, the Pro League, the Association Clubs Francophones de Football and Voetbal Vlaanderen have formulated the ‘Come Together’ action plan to fight discrimination and racism in Belgium with a particular emphasis on online abuse.

The Football Association announced it is funding a police unit to use the evidence they gather in relation to the online abuse of England players during UEFA EURO 2024 to see cases through to prosecution.

“Just as football unites the world, the fight against racism and all forms of discrimination must unite us all,” Infantino said.

“The global stand against racism taken by the recent FIFA Congress was a powerful message and with the help of law enforcement and tools such as the social media protection service this is a fight we can win.”

The SMPS will also be active for upcoming FIFA events, including the Olympic Football Tournaments at Paris 2024, the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup 2024 in Colombia, the FIFA Futsal World Cup 2024 in Uzbekistan and the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup 2024 in the Dominican Republic.

This story was first published on July 1, 2024.

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