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Editorial: Online abuse of Tokyo Games athletes exposes sport's future challenges

A spate of abusive posts targeting Olympians at the Tokyo Games has been witnessed on social media. Medal-winning Japanese athletes including mixed doubles table tennis gold medalist Jun Mizutani, all-around gymnastics gold medalist Daiki Hashimoto and surfing shortboard silver medalist Kanoa Igarashi have revealed via social media that they were attacked online.

    The content of the aggressive posts varies, and they don't only disparage athletes' performance at the Games; some are nationalistic and racist, while others dredge up Olympians' past scandals.

    Foreign athletes competing at the Tokyo Games are no exception to online bullying, either. A South Korean archer was attacked online by anti-feminists, apparently for her short hair.

    Ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, when debate was focused on whether the Games should be held in a pandemic, many pleaded with Japanese star swimmer Rikako Ikee to withdraw.

    The 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing were the first where athletes really started using social media, after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) approved Olympians to post on their blogs. The use of social media platforms like Twitter subsequently became widespread, and since the 2012 London Games, the IOC recommends that Olympians actively use online media. Its aim is for athletes to promote the Games' appeal to young audiences informed via social media.

    Social media also directly connects athletes to fans.

    During the ongoing Tokyo Games, Olympians are posting photos and videos of their rooms and dining halls at the athletes' village, among other content newspapers and TV networks cannot cover. Many athletes also motivate themselves with fans' supportive messages.

    But posts violating their dignity cannot be tolerated. If an athlete is showered with heartless, abusive comments, they can suffer mentally and see it negatively affect their performance at the Games.

    The Japanese Olympic Committee is monitoring and recording abusive posts against Japanese athletes. While legal action over the comments is one option, sports-related authorities should take steps to solve the issue as a new challenge the sports community faces. We also ask social media operators to devise ways to reduce malicious online posts.

    It is essential to take care of athletes' mental well-being so that they can focus on competition. We must build a system that protects athletes while assessing social media's advantages and drawbacks.

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