Sports spirit lies in unity, respect
Published: Sep 12, 2023 11:46 PM
Illustration: Liu Xiangya/Global Times

Illustration: Liu Xiangya/Global Times

 As the Hangzhou Asian Games draw near, the excitement is palpable among sports enthusiasts in China.

Yet, beneath the anticipation and enthusiasm lies a dark underbelly of online violence that may threaten to tarnish the spirit of sportsmanship, as several cases have shown on social media platforms. 

Some disgruntled fans, unhappy with game outcomes, have resorted to a disturbing trend of doxxing, a practice where the personal information of athletes, referees, and coaches is maliciously leaked online, often leading to targeted harassment and cyberbullying.

In one distressing example, Zhu Yi, a promising figure skater who represented China at the Winter Olympics in 2022, received threats and derogatory messages on social media after a disappointing performance at the Games. 

Zhu, who had dedicated years to training and preparation, suddenly found herself caught in a maelstrom of online abuse due to an unpromising performance in the women's singles competition. 

Personal details were exposed, and harassment unfolded, pushing the athlete to the brink of despair.

Such instances of online violence are not isolated incidents. They have become a disconcerting trend, posing a significant threat to the mental and emotional well-being of athletes. The sanctity of sports, which should be a platform for unity and inspiration, is at risk of being eroded by this toxic online behavior.

Sporting events, including the Asian Games, thrive on competitiveness. It's the very essence of the games that makes them exhilarating to watch and participate in. 

However, the rise of extreme online behaviors has cast a shadow over the sports world. Soccer fans were debating who deserves the title GOAT, referring to the phrase "greatest of all time," as followers of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi engaged in an online spat for who should be the marquee name in the sport.

The quarrel has also been imported to China in several sports where Chinese athletes are competing for the leading role within the team. 

The fierce rivalry between the fans of the athletes within the same team has sometimes gone too far, with some extreme fans engaged in bitter online feuds, hurling insults, and trying to undermine the performance of athletes from the same team.

In 2021, the case of racist abuse in the UK targeting three English players who missed penalty kicks also raised awareness on social media such as Twitter and YouTube. The case prompted the English Football Association (FA) to issue a statement condemning the language used against the players. 

In May, French Open organizers even gave all players access to an online tool meant to protect them from cyberbullying and harassment on social media. The software uses artificial intelligence to filter comments posted to social media accounts and block those that are deemed toxic or abusive.

Back in April, a female fan sneaked into the room of table tennis player Fan Zhendong when he was competing in Xinxiang, Central China's Henan Province. The incident happened mainly because Fan's information was leaked onto the internet, making it possible for the fan to locate him. This kind of behavior not only skews the public perception of athletes but also disrupts the overall online discourse of an event.

These incidents highlight that introducing a policy that prevents massive online spats as well as athletes' personal information leaks is necessary to secure the safe operation of the Asian Games as athletes can focus on the competitions rather than being distracted by radical fans' actions.

It must be recognized that the need for collective efforts to protect athletes and uphold the integrity of sports during the Asian Games and beyond should be addressed. 

Event organizers, along with social media platforms, should implement stricter cybersecurity measures to prevent the dissemination of personal information and targeted harassment.  Swift action should be taken to remove harmful content and ban offenders. 

Advocate for stricter legal consequences for online harassment and cyberbullying, including penalties for doxxing and incitement of violence, will also deter certain incidents from happening. 

Furthermore, there's a growing concern about the inclusion of esports in the Asian Games. While these competitive video gaming events bring a unique dimension to the Games, they also require careful guidance. 

Some esports games, due to their video game nature, entitles inherent addictive qualities, and there's a need to ensure that underage participants do not fall victim to excessive gaming, which calls for online platforms to produce regulations and guidelines. 

As the fans eagerly await the Asian Games, it should be reiterated that the true spirit of sports lies in unity, respect and inspiration. The power of athletic role models is to inspire people to work hard and to make themselves stronger, not just simply a shout out for their favorites.

It's imperative that action is needed to ensure that athletes can compete without fear of online harassment, and that fans can support their favorites in a positive and healthy manner. Together, the excellence and dedication of athletes will be celebrated while protecting the integrity of the Games the fans cherish.

The author is a reporter with the Global Times.