February 2024

By Julie Inman Grant, eSafety Commissioner

We all know Australians love their sport.

It’s a wonderful part of life, with millions of us involved every week as competitors, volunteers, coaches, passionate sport parents and supporters.

Sport organisations and sport-loving individuals work hard to create safe, inclusive and fair environments for everyone.

Nevertheless, it’s naturally a competitive and emotionally charged environment and we’ve long seen instances of poor conduct in-person, like supporters screaming abuse from sidelines, referees being sworn at and even menacing threats of harm.

That’s why we have rules on the field of play.

But sport, or at least our interaction with it, doesn’t just happen there. It’s moved online. That creates huge benefits and efficiencies but also brings real challenges and risks.

In some ways, the internet represents the cheapest seats in the house!

The number one rule of respect in sport is just as important online as it is offline.

What might start as passionate dialogue, back and forth on social media, can quickly move towards something darker and more abusive, targeting specific players, threatening their families.

We’ve seen this kind of behaviour across all sporting codes – football, swimming, tennis, gymnastics and beyond.

And it isn’t at all confined to elite competition – online abuse can occur at any level, including under-18s.

We see racism, misogyny and other forms of hate speech targeting community club officials and coaches – even young competitors and their parents. Obviously, this can be highly distressing and harmful for those targeted, but it also undermines sport as a whole.

That’s why we’re working closely with the sport sector to give online abuse a red card, developing a systematic approach across sport policy, education and resourcing.

Those at the coalface of safety and complaints, including integrity managers, member protection officers and athlete wellbeing leads, must be equipped to recognise and support members targeted by abuse.

The 2021 Online Safety Statement of Commitment was a key moment on this journey, when leading sport organisations joined with us and pledged to work together to address online abuse.

Our recent Memorandum of Understanding between Play by the Rules and eSafety is another step forward in promoting safe, fair and inclusive sport to ensure we all #PlayItFairOnline.

eSafety will continue working closely with lead national agencies such as Sport Integrity Australia and the Australian Sports Commission and sporting codes like the AFL.  We’re also contributing to the National Integrity Framework and associated programs.

But we recognise that sport is largely run by volunteers, people who are already stretched for time and can be overwhelmed with responsibility. It’s important that we provide clear guidance and practical resources to help them navigate online safety.

Which is why I am delighted to share our new eSafety Sport resources now available at eSafety.gov.au/sport.

It’s a one-stop-shop for anyone involved to learn more about ways to prevent and manage online abuse in sport, including tailored information for sports administrators, coaches, officials, parents and competitors.

I encourage you to explore our new resources and share them with your community.

And please remember anyone targeted by online abuse in sport should reach out to their sport organisation or eSafety for help. We are here to support players and fans and to remind everyone it’s not passion for the game if it harms others.

The important online safety stories in this special Play by the Rules edition emphasise the role we can all play in making sport the best possible experience for everyone involved.

Let’s come together and play it safe and fair, on and offline.


Who is eSafety?

The eSafety Commissioner (eSafety) is Australia’s independent regulator for online safety. It is the world’s first government agency dedicated to keeping people safer online.

eSafety educates Australians about online safety risks and helps to remove harmful content such as cyberbullying of children and young people, adult cyber abuse, image-based abuse (colloquially known as, “revenge porn” – but we don’t call it that), and illegal and restricted content.

Visit eSafety.gov.au to find out more on how to stay safe online and report serious online abuse.


How common is online abuse?

eSafety research has found:

  • 75% of adults have had a negative online experience
  • 45% of children have been treated in a hurtful or nasty way online
  • 1 in 6 adults had done something negative online to others.