A significant milestone in the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile’s mission to drive out online abuse was reached today with the launch of a White Paper on the issue that has become a blight on global sport.
The White Paper, produced as part of a research programme under the auspices of the FIA University, has been presented to the FIA’s 241 Member Clubs. It was also shared at the World Motor Sport Council Strategy Meeting in Bahrain today.
The document, entitled, “A Strategic Response To Online Hate Speech In Sport” has been informed by industry experts, government institutions and the FIA’s academic partners. Dr David Hassan, an academic, writer, and associate dean of the Faculty of Life and Health Sciences (Global Engagement) at Ulster University, a member of the FIA’s Online Abuse Working Group, is the document’s author.
The White Paper sets out the sustained and collaborative approach the FIA will adopt in confronting online toxicity.
The FIA recognises that online abuse of its participants, officials and volunteers has reached intolerable levels. The governing body of motor sport, at the instigation FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem, has committed to adopting a leadership position in addressing this issue in the motor sport ecosystem, in the first instance, and the wider sporting environment thereafter.
The President first revealed details of the FIA’s pledge to address the matter in a speech at the Annual General Assembly Week in Bologna in December last year. He pointed out that a collaborative approach was needed to bring about real change.
To date the FIA Online Abuse Working Group has taken the following measures:
- Secured support for the strategic approach from the European Commission through an endorsement from Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth to support all FIA efforts to tackle the issue
- Forged partnerships with a number of like-minded fellow governing sports bodies including Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM) and Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL)
- Held exploratory discussions with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach and Gianni Infantino, the President of Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA)
- Commissioned research via the FIA University into digital hate and toxic commentary specific to sport. This will provide a platform for knowledge sharing, education and prevention
- Partnered with Artificial Intelligence experts Arwen.ai to utilize their software to detect and reduce abusive content on FIA channels
- Consulted with social media publishers to source data-driven consultative guidance into online behaviour
The White Paper reveals that across the European Union (EU) some 80% of people surveyed had encountered some form of online hate, with 40% of respondents claiming that they had been either left frightened or threatened by postings they had read online.
It also reports that the FIA will invest significant funding to support research via the FIA University and become the first governing body of sport to launch its own, dedicated research centre into online hate. It will appoint leading researchers to support its work.
In terms of addressing the issues on FIA platforms, the White Paper states that after 5 months of its collaboration with Arwen.ai, the number of toxic comments being posted on the FIA’s social media profiles has reduced by 66.6%.
Across all social media profiles (the FIA and President Ben Sulayem) whereas 92.73% of comments were considered safe in September 2022, within five months some 97.57% fell into this category.
In the coming months the Federation will reveal further details of a concerted action plan which will leverage the power and reach of its global Member network.
The FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem, said: “The release of our White Paper further underlines the FIA’s commitment to confronting online abuse. With the support of the European Commission and other sporting governing bodies, we are emboldened by a combined determination to bring about meaningful change through concrete action.
“Sustained online toxicity has reached deplorable levels. We will no longer tolerate FIA volunteers, officials, employees and drivers being subjected to this extreme abuse. It has no place in our sport and if it continues it could destroy it. We will take a collaborative approach in combatting this scourge on our sport and others.
“We want everyone, the teams, drivers, media and fans to play their part. Only through collaborative action, can we bring about behavioural change. This journey has only just begun.”
He added that the FIA’s aim is to ensure sport remains fully accessible and welcoming to all by promoting and safeguarding a respectful environment.
Jorge Viegas, President of Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM), said: “The FIM is fully supportive of the FIA’s efforts in launching this campaign to drive out online abuse in sport. We will work together along with a number of other sports governing bodies to tackle abuse and harassment and create a safer environment for competitors and fans.”
Mike Riley, Managing Director, Professional Game Match Officials, said: “PGMOL is hugely supportive of the progressive steps taken by the FIA in addressing the issue of online abuse across the wider sport ecosystem – something we all feel strongly about. During recent discussions, we have together identified that common challenges are shared around the abuse of our officials, and we look forward to further collaboration with the FIA to bring about change for good.”