On the Sunday night just past, a mere twelve minutes into Marseille’s game against Saint-Étienne, infamous striker Mario Balotelli put the ball in the back of the net. Before the game even ended, in typical Mario fashion, he had posted his triumph on Instagram. Whilst we all may chuckle at this, taking it with a pinch of salt, it’s another example of a mask that hides the horrendous impact social media networks are having on the modern game.
Ironically, the only way to share my views on this (and the way many of you are likely reading this) is through social media. I’d like to point out that this criticism is not your typical, ‘SOCIAL MEDIA IS CONTROLLING YOU’, type rant. It is, nonetheless, a rant about its relationship with sport.
Every week, before any team plays, their line-ups get posted on their social media pages, for fans to view. Somewhat begrudgingly each week, I wade into the dark waters of the comments sections. The darkness (Facebook and Twitter) is usually freckled with the marvelous minds of football fans plaguing comment sections, week in and week out. I am in no way saying that fans should not have a voice. The disengagement between clubs and fans is sadly growing, but that’s a whole other article. Nonetheless, comments made about line-ups, managers’ decision-making and remarks about a player’s performance before the games have even kicked-off are more impactful than you may think. Take Arsène Wenger as an example; Facebook and Twitter feeds were clogged with criticisms of the manager’s decisions (which seemed to dictate the board’s decisions). This is someone with three premier league titles, a champions league finalist, and seven-time FA cup winner. Whilst most would say, including myself, that it was time for Wenger to depart; the manner in which he departed was wrong, social media reduced one of football’s most influential personalities and thinkers to a laughing stock.
Some would say this is an exaggeration. However, if we turn our heads to the events of last year’s champion’s league final, we see how low social media can sink. Having reached their first European cup final since 2007, going for a first win since 2005 and Mo Salah in sparkling form, Liverpool looked to be on their way to lifting the famous trophy. However, it was not to be as goalkeeper Loris Karius made two fatal errors which led Real Madrid to a 3-1 victory and their thirteenth title. It was, as Liverpool fans across the world will tell you, a devastating end to what had been a wonderful campaign.
However, a cliché that we sadly need to be reminded of once too often in the sports industry these days is that we are all still human. In the immediate aftermath of the final, Karius, through social media, was sent death threats, branding him with disgusting names as well as wishes of harm upon his family. Any proper football fan across the world will tell you that, whilst Karius’ blunder was huge, no human being should have to be subjected to such horrid abuse. Footballers are in a privileged position, many, if not all, will admit to that themselves but we can never understand the nuances of the job – the pressure, the expectation or the pain when it goes wrong.
On top of this, sexism in sport is still, sadly, a prominent issue in the modern sporting world. I read the comments on the BBC Sport’s coverage of Naomi Osaka’s second grand slam victory recently. In a, sadly, unsurprising turn of events the comments were riddled with remarks on her match with Serena Williams in the US Open final instead of her Grand-Slam victories. As athletes, Osaka and Williams have handled sexism in social media with grace, much contrary to the venom of the commenters. Comment sections should celebrate victories such as Osaka’s rather than indulge in the played-out trope of pitting women against one another.
Most recently, a Guardian article pointed out that there had been a 400% rise in reports of sexism during the 2017-18 football season with social media being the main platform for distributing these comments. The women’s game of football has seen some tremendous strides recently; including, the broadcasting of the Women’s World Cup on mainstream networks, as well as far more appearances of pundits such as Alex Scott on Sky Sports. However, social media proves that sexism surrounding women in sports is still very much alive and needs to be addressed on the very platforms where it breeds.
I’ll be the first to admit that I afford myself the occasional chuckle at football twitter, at Paddy Powers’ attempts to outdo themselves with every Facebook post—but this does not excuse the more serious problem at hand. We live in a fairly disenchanted world where sport, for the most part, is supposed to represent something aspirational. Social media gives internet-warriors a place to spend their negativity from the comfort of a computer screen. Sportspeople, from within their professional federations and from a public point of view, should be judged on the facts, not on a tweet posted by an anonymous coward. It worries me that this is not always the case.