Harassment of football players on social networks

In the opinion article by João Caiado Guerreiro in the newspaper A Bola: "Football players have no protection against hate and insult on social networks in Portugal and abroad".
News 08/05/2023

“Esgaio deletes social networks after criticism, colleagues defend him”; “Porro was insulted after defeat and deactivated social media accounts”; “Tiago Araújo deactivates social networks after the game between Benfica and Estoril”. Three news headlines about players violently insulted and threatened on social networks, in Portugal and abroad.

Let’s start with the good side of social networks, which allows athletes to become global idols and earn much money with their publications, sponsors, and “likes”. Just think: Cristiano Ronaldo has 850 million followers.

But there is the other side, the vulnerable one, that some athletes can’t handle. Pedro Porro, former Sporting player (and how well life was going for him in Alvalade), had to deactivate his accounts due to violent comments from disgruntled Tottenham fans. Estoril midfielder Tiago Araujo has also deactivated his Twitter account and made his Instagram account private due to the insults he received after the game against Benfica. Ricardo Esgaio, a mature player, couldn’t take the insults after a few less successful games for Sporting and took the same decision.

In legal terms, the Portuguese Constitution indeed guarantees everyone, in its article 27, the freedom of expression: “Everyone has the right to express and disseminate their thoughts (…) freely”. In the same sense, paragraph 2, “The exercise of these rights may not be (…) limited by any type or form of censorship.” So, all citizens, players included, can write what they want and where they want, correct?

No, the right to one’s good name and reputation is protected, also by the crimes of slander: Article 181 of the Criminal Code: “Whoever slanders another person (…) by addressing words offensive to his honour or reputation shall be punished by a term of imprisonment of up to 3 months (…) “whoever (…) formulates a judgment about (another person) which is offensive to his honour or reputation, or reproduces such a judgment, shall be punished by a term of imprisonment of up to 6 months (…)”.

However, despite these rules, football players have no protection against hate and insult on social networks in Portugal and abroad. It is, nowadays, a matter for which there is still no solution because, in marketing terms, it is not good to sue fans, except in some cases of real persecution that the courts can punish, and players have no defence. Zero!

Worse, in Portugal, if they reply or make any allegedly “more aggressive” publication, the Portuguese Football Federation has disciplinary power and exercises it through Article 5 of the Disciplinary Regulation of Liga Portugal, being able to reprimand, fine or suspend players (article 32) for their behaviour towards supporters.

The irrationality of the situation is that the fans are overprotected because they “hide” behind a keyboard, where they can do anything. For all this, the Goal is about dignity, courage and, above all, respect, which is forgotten in the “world” of sport.

The content of this information does not constitute any specific legal advice; the latter can only be given when faced with a specific case. Please contact us for any further clarification or information deemed necessary in what concerns the application of the law.

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  • Sports Law