Researchers examine social media abuse in sports

10 MAY 2019

Researchers examine social media abuse in sports

Two papers by Charles Sturt University academics presented at a recent world conference in New Zealand examine rise of abuse via social media directed at female athletes and the LGBTI community.

  • Research presented shows social media provides a space for unregulated physical and sexual abuse of female athletes in a way that traditional sports media does not
  • Researchers argue that abuse directed at female athletes is ‘workplace harassment’ and that social media spaces should be policed in the same ways that physical spaces are abuse
  • Recent controversy of social media posts by rugby player Israel Folau cited to examine the competing liberties of religion and LGBTI rights

Two papers by Charles Sturt University (Charles Sturt) academics presented at a recent world conference in New Zealand examine rise of abuse via social media directed at female athletes and the LGBTI community.

Researchers in the Charles Sturt School of Exercise Science, Sport and Health Dr Chelsea Litchfield and Dr Jaquelyn Osborne delivered their co-authored papers at the World Congress of Sociology of Sport 2019 (24-27 April) at the University of Otaga in Dunedin, NZ.

The conference is usually held in the northern hemisphere, and is possibly the largest and most prestigious conference in relation to sport sociology in the world.

Dr Litchfield presented the paper co-authored with Dr Osborne and Dr Emma Kavanagh (Bournemouth University, in the UK) titled ‘Sexualisation, misogyny and social media abuse in women’s tennis’.

“This paper focused on the gender-based violence received by female tennis players − and female athletes more broadly − in social media spaces,” Dr Litchfield said.

“The findings from this work demonstrate how social media provides a space for unregulated physical and sexual abuse of female athletes in a way that traditional sports media does not.

“Virtual abuse and maltreatment is identified as a significant social problem which requires further consideration in academic literature.

“We suggest that society needs to start thinking about abuse directed at female athletes as ‘workplace harassment’, and that social media spaces should be policed in the same ways that physical spaces are in relation to abuse.”

This research was subsequently noted in an article in Brisbane’s Courier Mail newspaper (‘Women shooting for glory are in firing line’, by Karen Brooks, p22 Monday 29 April 2019).

On a separate but related topic, Dr Osborne presented the paper she co-authored with Dr Litchfield titled ‘Walking the line: Sporting bodies, social media and the politics of free speech, religion and discrimination’.

“The paper focused on Australian rugby union player, Israel Folau’s ‘anti-gay’ comments in 2018, which he defended on religious grounds,” Dr Osborne said.

“When such an incident occurs, it is the responsibility of the relevant sporting association to determine the course of action and whether sanctions are warranted.

“In the case of Folau, the governing body took no action on what seemed to be breaches of Rugby Australia policies.

“This paper uses Folau as a case study to examine the competing liberties of religion and LGBTI rights, and the more recent 2019 incident of homophobia was also discussed.”


Media contact:

Bruce Andrews, 0418 669 362


Media Note:

To arrange interviews with Dr Chelsea Litchfield and Dr Jaquelyn Osborne who are both based at Charles Sturt University in Bathurst, contact Bruce Andrews at Charles Sturt Media on mobile 0418 669 362 or via news@csu.edu.au

Dr Litchfield and Dr Osborne gratefully acknowledge the support of a Charles Sturt University Faculty of Science Travel Grant to attend the World Congress of Sociology of Sport 2019 (24-27 April) at the University of Otaga in Dunedin, NZ.

The papers they presented are:

Chelsea Litchfield, and Jaquelyn Osborne (Charles Sturt University, Australia), and Emma Kavanagh (Bournemouth University, UK); ‘Sexualisation, misogyny and social media abuse in women’s tennis’.

Jaquelyn Osborne and Chelsea Litchfield (Charles Sturt University, Australia); ‘Walking the line: Sporting bodies, social media and the politics of free speech, religion and discrimination’.


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