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'If you see something that you're not happy about, do something about it: call it out, ban it, report it'

David Gillick discusses the rise of online abuse in sport, and the zero-tolerance approach which must be adopted towards it.

David Gillick: launching the new Olympic Federation of Ireland campaign, ‘Don’t Scroll By’.
David Gillick: launching the new Olympic Federation of Ireland campaign, ‘Don’t Scroll By’.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

DON’T SCROLL BY. Delete, ban, report.

That’s the message behind an important new campaign on these shores, as the Olympic Federation of Ireland [OFI] takes a zero-tolerance approach to online hate speech.

The subject of social media abuse in sport has been hugely topical of late, particularly over the past few weeks. Irish international footballer James McClean and his wife, Erin, highlighted the vile messages and threats they so regularly receive, while Shane Duffy also shared some sent his way at the weekend. Turning to rugby, Billy Burns was the target of online abuse after Ireland’s Six Nations opener earlier this month.

And in the field of athletics, this week Leon Reid lifted the lid on the “web of online hate” he’s constantly caught up in as a black Irish athlete.

Reid spoke candidly at the launch of the new OFI campaign, ‘Don’t Scroll By,’ sharing some shocking personal experiences — both online and offline — from through the years.

That level of online hate speech didn’t hit quite as close to home for David Gillick through his own career, but he’s well-versed on the topic considering what he’s witnessed since retiring.

“I’ll be honest, I’m lucky enough not to have received any sort of racial or discriminatory comments towards me,” the Olympian and OFI’s Athletes’ Commission member told The42 today.

“Being an athlete and doing a bit more TV work and putting yourself out there in a public sense, yes I have had comments and things that would have kind of hurt me, so to speak, just hearsay comments and that sort of craic.

“We all try and go, ‘Ah, it’s water off a duck’s back,’ and, ‘Oh, I don’t read my own press.’ We’re human.

“Even when I was competing, as much as I didn’t read the papers, I kind of did. You might check out what’s been said. It could be 100 comments, 99 are positive but just that one could really kind of hurt you, you know?”

That said, he’s thankful he was never targeted with any racial discrimination — hate speech which ultimately set the wheels in motion for ‘Don’t Scroll By’.

david-gillick-celebrates-winning-the-400m-final Gillick representing Ireland. Source: INPHO

Gillick recalls the debate around Rule 50 — that no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas — and how, at Olympic and world level, “the podium was used as a stage to air these kind of grievances”.

The OFI asked Irish athletes for feedback at the time, and other issues came to the fore. 

“What we really learned was that in the reality of it all, very few Irish athletes would get to that podium in order to even air an opinion,” Gillick explains, casting his mind back two years.

“Then we were like, ‘Well, what are the issues? What are some of the things that the athletes are dealing with now, today, that they don’t have a podium to stand on and air that grievance?’

“That’s where we really began to understand hate speech, cyber bullying, but also around discrimination, and particularly racial discrimination. It has happened with some of our younger athletes.

You look at Ireland now, it’s very socially diverse. The teams that are representing Ireland are very socially diverse, and it’s going to become a little bit more like that in the coming years. We had an athlete who performed extremely well for our country, [the news] went out, it was celebrated on social media. And there was a bit of a backlash.

“Now, the majority of comments were very positive but there was a few there that really stood out and we were going, ‘Woah… we weren’t expecting this.’ From a governance point of view, we didn’t want that athlete to see it, we didn’t want parents or friends of that athlete [to see it].

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“And that’s where we were like, ‘Maybe there’s something we can do here, in terms of making a stand. Forget podiums and Rule 50, what can we do as a Federation? What can we do as athletes, as sports lovers?”

That’s where ‘Don’t Scroll By’ was born, as the rise of social media brought a significant increase in online abuse and hate speech.

Now, the onus is on individuals to act and share their support for those targetted, Gillick stresses.

“The reality is, in Ireland, it does exist. It is going on. It goes on on social media, across all sports and beyond. It’s part and parcel sometimes of some people’s day. We spend so much time on social media, it’s part of our existence right now.

If you see something that you’re not happy about, do something about it. Call it out, ban it, report it. If we can all do that, that is positive. 

“It’s heartwarming to see that the likes of Leon have been open and honest, because that is the reality, that’s where we’re at. We welcome that, we want to back athletes like that, we want to support them.

“I’ve trained with athletes from mixed backgrounds and heritage and I didn’t see any difference. They were great people, some of my best mates. We all need to support people that we know and our teammates, that’s what it’s about.”

leon-reid Leon Reid. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

He outlines the zero tolerance attitude the OFI will hold, and again, calls on individuals to play their own part in the here and now.

Pressure is piling on big social media companies like Instagram and Twitter to take further action, whether that be IDing users to stamp out faceless trolls or otherwise, and while Gillick feels that would be beneficial, it might not happen for some time yet.

“As individuals, we can all do our own little part. Long term, if we can lobby government and lobby the big social media platform companies, that we shouldn’t have to stand for this.

“If there’s legislation brought in, that is the big win. The world has evolved, we, as a race, have evolved, and social media has evolved. It’s very, very hard to control what goes on online and on social media.

“Legislation is probably something that down the road would be very, very worthwhile in this. But by even just using those words, like report, ban and delete it, they’re strong words. Don’t Scroll By, it’s very straightforward. If you see something, do something about it.

“iReport.ie is a great way of logging and reporting that, and making sure that people who are continually putting out this rhetoric can can be reprimanded.”

“It’s something that as a population and as a society, we can all row behind,” the Dubliner concludes. “It’s a positive campaign and we’re getting traction and support.

“It’s really good for for athletes now, but also the next generation coming through, that there is awareness around what is actually going on on the ground, and I think that’s very important.” 

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David Gillick was speaking at the launch of the new Olympic Federation of Ireland campaign, ‘Don’t Scroll By’.

 It calls on the public and sporting stakeholders nationwide to adopt a zero-tolerance approach to online abuse, discrimination and hate speech, and to #DeleteBanReport any of this type of commentary they witness online.

About the author:

Emma Duffy

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