MELBOURNE (Reuters) - An Australian newspaper has cancelled all reader commentary on its coverage of the Australian Football League Women’s (AFLW) competition due to “vile” and sexist posts.
Melbourne daily Herald Sun said it had taken the measure after appeals from players, clubs, commentators and fans of the top flight Australian Rules competition.
"After reading screeds of vile posts by readers — one story contained almost 300 comments of a grossly sexist tone, which were moderated out of publication — the Herald Sun has chosen to close reader feedback on AFLW reports except in rare circumstances," the paper's head of sport Matt Kitchin said on its website (here).
“It makes the environment so unpleasant that it makes perfect sense that readers wouldn’t want to engage with the stories.”
The AFLW, Australia’s first women’s professional league in the indigenous football code, was set up in 2017 with eight teams and has expanded to 14 in the current 2020 season.
It has been a hit with fans but players have complained of relentless abuse on social media.
The Herald Sun’s commentary shut-down has echoes of a furore that erupted during the 2019 AFLW season over a photo of Carlton women’s footballer Tayla Harris kicking for goal.
Local broadcaster Channel Seven took down the photo from one of its social media accounts after it triggered a torrent of online abuse towards Harris but later re-posted the image with an apology to the footballer.
Harris’s subsequent complaints of online “sexual abuse” struck a chord with athletes around the world, and the nation’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison weighed in to condemn social media “trolls”.
Last month, Harris called on the sport’s governing body AFL to employ someone especially to stamp out online harassment.
“God damn I’ll give up my AFLW wage to employ someone to monitor this,” she wrote on Twitter.
“Public bullying is a ripple effect to young people in schools and communities that lead to mental health issues and suicide.”
Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan