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Online abuse aimed at elite athletes on the rise – new study

Online abuse aimed at elite athletes is on the rise, a new Loughborough University study has found.

The report, commissioned by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), showed that social media abuse aimed at athletes has risen considerably in recent years with up to one-third of posts now containing negative content targeted towards sporting stars.

Researchers found that abusive social media posts included primarily hateful, discriminatory, and emotional forms of harassment, especially towards female athletes.

The study deployed a two-part research approach involving digital analysis of social media posts and semi-structured interviews with informed practitioners engaged in safeguarding athletes from social media hate.

Andrea Geurin, Professor in Sport Business and Director of the Institute for Sport Business, Loughborough University London, explained the findings:

“Our research confirmed that online abuse towards athletes is quite prevalent, which can have long-lasting damaging effects on them.

“Meanwhile, sport organisations and governing bodies are struggling to keep up with this abuse from a safeguarding perspective. Based on our findings we developed recommendations to help sport organisations address the issue more comprehensively, and therefore better protect athletes’ mental, emotional and physical health.”  

Academics have suggested that sport organisations can improve their safeguarding by developing harm reduction policies emphasising responsibility, collaboration, education, and responsiveness.

Further research could also reveal how abuse suffered by athletes may differ across various social media platforms and outside of competition windows.

The Loughborough research team included Dr Emily Hayday, Dr Lauren Burch, Professor Aaron Smith, and Professor Andrea Geurin.

To read Loughborough University’s summarised 5-page industry report focussed on the findings, visit:



Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 24/13

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world for sports-related subjects in the 2023 QS World University Rankings – the seventh year running – and University of the Year for Sport by The Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2022.

Loughborough is ranked 7th in The UK Complete University Guide 2023, 10th in the Guardian University League Table 2024 and 10th in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2024.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’, and in the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021 over 90% of its research was rated as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally-excellent’. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

The Loughborough University London campus is based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities. It is home to influential thought leaders, pioneering researchers and creative innovators who provide students with the highest quality of teaching and the very latest in modern thinking.