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Sport’s social media boycott under way

The world of sport has begun its social media boycott to challenge online abuse.

Since English football figures announced the move – which started at 3pm on Friday and runs until 11.59pm on Monday – the boycott has grown as other sports’ governing bodies, sponsors, partners, broadcasters and media outlets have joined in.

A coalition of football’s largest governing bodies and organisations, including the Football Association, Premier League and EFL, were among those to go silent on social media in a show of solidarity against sustained and spiralling abuse.

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Football’s daily chatter will come to a stop at a crucial time of the season when trophy, promotion and relegation issues are all at stake.

European governing body UEFA is also taking part, as well as Scottish and Irish football, England Rugby, Scottish Rugby, British Cycling, the Rugby Football League, British Horseracing, the England and Wales Cricket Board, the Lawn Tennis Association, International Tennis Federation and others.

It is a campaign which has gained incredible momentum in recent days and one the Duke of Cambridge has joined to stand alongside “the entire football community”.

In January, Prince William, who is president of the FA, hit out at racist abuse in football, describing it as “despicable” and saying it “must stop” after several black players were targeted online.

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Soon before 3pm, in a tweet signed W for William, the future king pledged his support.

The post, from the Kensington Royal account, read: “As President of the FA I join the entire football community in the social media boycott this weekend. W.”

Earlier, Manchester United confirmed the club had banned six fans for abusing Tottenham’s Son Heung-min and revealed online abuse aimed at their players had increased by 350 per cent in the past 20 months.

United players have been frequent targets and the club’s own in-depth review of Twitter, Instagram and Facebook has found 3,300 abusive posts were aimed at their players between September 2019 to February 2021.

The club said 86 per cent of those posts were racist, with eight per cent homophobic or transphobic, and activity peaked in January 2021, when over 400 abusive player posts were recorded.

United say since September 2019 “there has been a 350 per cent increase in abuse directed towards the club’s players”, plus they are acting on the abuse of others.

The club said: “Manchester United has instigated club sanction proceedings against six individuals alleged to have breached club rules by abusing Tottenham’s Heung-Min Son on social media following the match on 11 April.

“Regretfully, suspensions have been issued, subject to appeal, to three season ticket holders, two official members and one individual on the season ticket waiting list.

“This disciplinary action demonstrates the club’s commitment to the fight against discrimination on many fronts.”

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Chelsea also announced the ban of a supporter on the morning of the boycott for posting anti-Semitic messages online.

The statement read: “Following the conclusion of court proceedings in February, the Club conducted our own investigation into the matter and has taken the decision to ban the individual from Chelsea FC for a period of 10 years.

“Everybody at Chelsea is proud to be part of a diverse club. Our players, staff, fans and visitors to the club come from a wide range of backgrounds, including the Jewish community, and we want to ensure everyone feels safe, valued and included.

“We will not tolerate any behaviour from supporters that threatens that aim.”

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Formula One had issued a statement supporting the boycott, saying: “We continue to work with all platforms and our own audiences to promote respect and positive values and put a stop to racism.”

However, the organisation will not take part, having discussed the topic with all 10 teams ahead of this weekend’s Portuguese Grand Prix.

Posts on the official F1 Twitter feed continued following 3pm, with coverage of practice sessions at the Algarve International Circuit.

Sir Lewis Hamilton, though, will join the boycott, along with Williams driver George Russell.

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Seven-time world champion Hamilton has 22 million followers on Instagram and more than six million on Twitter.

In a post ahead of the boycott, Hamilton said: “To stand in solidarity with the football community, I will be going dark on my social media channels this weekend.

“There is no place in our society for any kind of abuse, online or not, and for too long it’s been easy for a small few to post hate from behind their screens.

“While a boycott might not solve this issue overnight, we have to call for change when needed, even when it seems like an almost impossible task. Sport has the power to unite us.

“Let’s not accept abuse as part of sport, but instead, let’s be the ones who make a difference for future generations.”