How brands can stand up to hate in the summer of sport 


Today, we launched a new report: Braving The Backlash: How Sports Brands Can Take a Stand on Social. In this blog, Group Editorial Director at We Are Social Sport, Dan Parker, explains how it can help brands stand up to online hate. 

2024 promises to be a banner year for sport, with Euro 2024 and the Paris Olympics headlining. However, alongside the huge amount of joy that sport brings, there is also a darker side to major sporting events – a surge in online hate. 

Research by our Cultural Insights team found that there is a high likelihood of an increase in hate speech online around two topics this summer: racism during the Euros, and discrimination on the grounds of gender and sexual identity during the Olympics. Both topics have seen instances of online hate rise over the past few years, and spike during major international events like these.

In a society that increasingly experiences key issues through the lens of social media activity, staying silent online in the face of hate is no longer enough – neither is a catch all statement. Marginalised communities often feel attacked and unsupported by brands who are quick to include them in advertising campaigns, but ignore the abuse they receive online. This is often because brands don’t know the right way to respond. 

This is why we’ve launched a new report that helps brands do just this: Braving The Backlash: How Sports Brands Can Take a Stand on Social.

As a team often on the ground with brands during flagship sporting events, We Are Social Sport has first hand experience of supporting them in making the right decision when responding to online hate. Through the lens of the Euros and Paris Games, the report identifies a three step process that will help brands tackle online discrimination.

The first step is always preparation. This initial phase describes why sports brands need an anti-hate policy, what it should consist of and where to display it. The policy is built on the ‘Three Rs Model’ – Remain, Reply and Report, to help brands and community managers successfully categorise and respond to hate speech online. This leads on to a collaboration phase, explaining how to co-create and work or stand alongside others from affected communities. The final step details the actions brands need to take depending on the issue at hand, from separation at the Euros to deliberation at the Olympics. 

In addition to our own research undertaken by our Cultural Insights team, the report also includes takeaways for brands rooted in expert guidance from leading voices on these issues: Troy Townsend MBE, Head of Player Engagement at Kick It Out, Liz Ward, Global Diversity and Inclusion Consultant and former Director of Programmes at Stonewall, and Aby Hawker, CEO of TransMission PR, a communications consultancy that specialises in trans and non-binary inclusion and awareness. The prevailing opinion across every expert we spoke to was that brands are not doing enough to listen to the athletes they sponsor, co-create social and grassroots change alongside them, and support them when they suffer online hate. There needs to be a greater emphasis placed on co-creation when it comes to brands working with the communities discriminated against online.

Brands are powerful, influential, and can lead change on social media if they choose to help turn the tide of online hate. As we approach a busy summer of sport, it’s time for them to step up.

For more information and further detail on the steps brands can take to tackle the rise in discrimination on social media, please read the full report here.