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Gareth Southgate: Balance needs to be found for footballers using social media

England head coach Gareth Southgate says balance has to be found when discussing measures to combat online abuse; Southgate feels social media is a valuable platform for ‘breaking down barriers’ between footballers and fans but says all forms of abuse are “simply unacceptable”

Gareth Southgate says football has to find a balance between using social media to connect with fans and boycotting it due to online abuse.

Scottish champions Rangers as well as Championship clubs Swansea and Birmingham are currently on a week-long break as a result of racist attacks on individuals, former Arsenal star Thierry Henry has quit his platforms and Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson handed control of his accounts over to an anti-cyberbullying charity.

Southgate understands the situation is a complex one and that any form of abuse online is “simply unacceptable”.

However, the England head coach feels the ability for footballers to connect with followers of the game has brought a new level of interactivity to the sport which he is reluctant to lose altogether.

“We have to strike a balance,” said Southgate, speaking at the presentation of a Nationwide Mutual Respect award to Dan Weston and Tina Jacobs for their work done with grassroots football during lockdown.

“We want to make a stand saying what is going on is 100 per cent not acceptable and we are fully supportive of players who are suffering unacceptable abuse, not just England players.

“The other side of that is social media has been such a brilliant part of connecting with our fans and it’s brilliant way for the players to stay connect with fans.

“People say players are unapproachable and social media has played a big part with breaking down those barriers. So we’re mindful that there’s a balance to be found.

“We have to lobby in the right places for change, and better policing of sites so that people cannot just post what they want.

“We understand that’s a complex situation, but the big message is that abuse of any kind online is simply not acceptable.”

Southgate feels the Nationwide Respect Campaign, a Football Association-led initiative aimed at creating a ‘fun and inclusive environment’, will be of great benefit at the grass roots level.

“It’s all levels of the game,” he said. “For a long time we’ve had problems getting young referees into refereeing because they just see the abuse that others are getting.

“They’re volunteers without whom the game can’t continue. The volunteers are our community and it’s got to be an environment that’s safe and enjoyable for people.

“I think we’re seeing more issues in society that we’re more aware of. On the field to officiate at grass roots level has become problematic and we need to make sure parents are setting the right example, but also creating a positive environment for young people to play.”

Sky Sports sets out series of measures to fight online hate

At Sky Sports, everybody is welcome – and that’s a message we are proud to share.

We are committed to doing more to tackle racism, highlight racial injustice and support communities impacted by racism.

The social media companies are best placed to deal with harmful content on their platforms, and we would like them to do more. As a publisher on social media platforms it is difficult for us to monitor and manage every comment that is posted and take action against every abusive or hateful comment.

But, we will use the power of our reach and our voice – and the voices of our people – to highlight the scale of online hate and the damage that it can inflict upon our people, the guests on our broadcasts and our customers.

Kick It Out reporting racism

Online Reporting Form | Kick It Out

Kick It Out is football’s equality and inclusion organisation – working throughout the football, educational and community sectors to challenge discrimination, encourage inclusive practices, and campaign for positive change.

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