Munster Rugby have turned to police in Ireland to put an end to what they claim is the “offensive online harassment and abuse” of some of their players.
The club have claimed that social media accounts and offensive posts have been created in recent months “for the purpose of attacking and abusing players, while also falsely claiming to be Munster Rugby players online”.
The extraordinary story, published by the Limerick Leader newspaper, is completely against the grain for a club that so frequently praises the behaviour of its supporters who will travel in their thousands to next weekend’s Champions Cup quarter-final in Edinburgh.
A Munster spokesperson told the newspaper that the social media trolls are “actively looking to destroy reputations and falsely represent people” in their Twitter and Instagram posts.
“This is not rugby-related. This is targeted abuse and has moved beyond the players’ themselves. It has linked in to their family and friends. These people are actively looking to destroy reputations and falsely represent people.
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“With the online world you cannot control most of it. It’s other peoples’ accounts, other peoples’ posts. We cannot remove, we can’t delete them. Obviously we report them. We use the mechanisms that are available to us with regard to reporting on the social media platforms, but it is on-going, it is continuing to happen.
“It’s the level and the nature of the posts, the commentary and the accounts and what they are trying to get across. This harassment is of a nature that warrants Garda investigation and intervention. Our players are people. While the public see them as sportspeople, there are people number one in our line of work and rugby players number two.
“It’s the person, our people who are being attacked here. That is who we are trying to protect. As a group everyone is being attacked. What they are trying to do to them, there is a human side to it. The abuse effects so many people. You see young people in the papers every week, you are seeing the ramifications of the online world, cyber-bullying, online harassment.
— Limerick Leader (@Limerick_Leader) March 21, 2019
“We are all united on this, have been addressing the group and working with the players closely. Obviously, the Gardai would have been brought in, so we have had detectives explain the process of how that all works. We are checking in constantly with the players. Actually venting these things unifies you because it maybe is an attack on one player this week and another player next week. Some players may not be getting it, but as a group you stand together on it.
“It effects all of us, but we all work together to try and get through it. This abuse has been going on for months and we haven’t seen that [negative] effect on the pitch. We had won seven in a row up to losing our most recent game. This is going on in the background for months and it hasn’t impacted on performance. As a group everyone is very strong and united on it.
“From a player welfare point of view, it’s constant communication with players, it’s talking to the Gardai, it’s bringing in external services where possible. We’re speaking with a forensic scientist at the moment just to talk about online behaviours.
“It’s education and is about coping mechanisms. That is a big thing from our side. That links back to the sports side of things. When they are playing they get negative commentary and opinions which comes part and parcel of being a professional sportsperson.
“Our biggest objective is to make sure players can cope with that, so that now is moving into another level that we have never seen before. Now we are trying to address that and see how we work with our players on this and make sure everyone is coming through the right side of it.”
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