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Granit Xhaka: Arsenal midfielder feels online abuse of players on social media could 'kill football'

Granit Xhaka feels social media abuse sent to footballers is having hugely harmful impact on sport: "You kill the football like this if the people start to speak about a player or their families or things like this."

Arsenal...s Granit Xhaka during the English Premier League soccer match between West Bromwich Albion and Arsenal at the Hawthorns stadium in West Bromwich, England, Saturday Jan 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)..
Image: Arsenal's Granit Xhaka believes online abuse targeting footballers on social media is having a highly negative impact on the sport

Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka believes recent social media abuse aimed at his family is part of a wider trend that could "kill football".

Xhaka has received racist abuse from several online accounts, including some which identified as Arsenal supporters and season-ticket holders, and believes such abuse is badly damaging the sport.

"It is one of many (examples), if I am honest," Xhaka replied when asked about the latest post.

"If I showed the others what they write, I think I have to close my social media, everyone has to close social media. I say that before and I will say that now and in the future as well, it is only about me. I am the guy who is on the pitch.

"It is not my wife, it is not my little one, it is not my family. So if you want to criticise someone, no problem to criticise me like a person, like a player.

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The PFA’s equalities education executive Jason Lee says online abuse can result in 'psychological damage', and the problem must be addressed

"But don't make the other people involved because they have nothing to do with my job. Secondly, I have a lot of help from the club because this is something we have to speak very openly about.

"You don't have to be quiet and say: 'Yeah, I keep it with me', because it is not always easy. But the club was here for me, for my family. They helped me, I was very open with the guys here and if you have people around you, who help
you, it is very, very important.

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"The problem is only if you lose, then it is a problem. It is not a problem when you win.

"If you lose, everyone hates you, everyone is writing you things like... it is not possible to understand how they can write something like this, you know.

"I wish I could meet the people who write me the things, to sit with them, eyes by eyes and to ask them, 'why are you writing things like this?'

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Speaking at the Financial Times’ Business of Football Summit, Marcus Rashford said social media can be a force for good when used in the right ways and he wants more of the positive stories highlighted

"This is not acceptable. So you have to open our eyes and to look after this a lot, because I think you kill the football like this if the people start to speak about a player or their families or things like this."

When asked about those supposed Arsenal fans who had sent abusive messages, Xhaka was defiant in his response.

"They are not supporters of my club. I do not see them as supporters of my club - to support the club they have to be here if we lose, we draw or we win," he added.

"Of course, you can criticise and say what you want about football - but not about the person, not about the family. I think this is two pairs of shoes, about the footballer and the person.

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FARE Network executive director Piara Powar says social media platforms must make better use of existing technology to tackle Online Hate more effectively

"But if one guy is a ticket holder at the club and speaks like this about his own players I don't think he needs respect from our side or other people."

Arsenal underlined the need for social media companies to commit to combating online abuse in a statement given to Sky Sports News.

The statement said: "As a club, we are committing to using our voice and network to strengthen measures and action taken by relevant authorities to punish those responsible for this abuse which affects us all. Where any individual is found to have an Arsenal membership, they will be banned. We are working with the authorities to report abuse to the police. We cannot and will not let hateful abuse become a normalised part of the game.

"We all need to work together to drive this behaviour out. This includes clubs, governing bodies, fans, media and politicians; but requires the help and commitment of social media companies.

"We cannot underestimate the impact abuse has on individuals and the recent spate of abuse needs to be a wake-up call. We provide support to our players which includes sports psychologists, social media and legal teams.

"We will continue to celebrate our diversity and use our platforms to educate others and continue our zero-tolerance approach to discrimination."

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