French Grand Slam Using AI to Protect Players from Online Abuse
As social media becomes increasingly prevalent, fans are now able to connect with their favourite tennis players more than ever before. However, this comes at a cost. Unfortunately, not all comments and messages directed towards the players are well-intended. Some can be downright abusive, spreading hate and negativity and generating extreme mental pressure for the players.
A few weeks ago, Taylor Townsend took to Instagram to share the death threats and racist comments she had received after her third-round defeat in the Italian Open. Such horrendous abuse and hate can significantly impact players’ mental health, and it is time for the tennis world to take action.
The French Open organisers have risen to the occasion and become the first of the four Grand Slams to utilize AI technology to protect players from social media abuse. The system, called “Bodyguard,” has been designed to filter out abusive comments from popular social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Youtube, Tik Tok, and Discord. Players can connect their social media accounts to the system via QR codes, allowing the AI technology to analyse comments and block abusive remarks in under 200 milliseconds.
The Bodyguard system has been updated in real-time with word patterns created by a team of linguists aimed at filtering abusive comments without being too censorial. Caroline Flaissier, CEO of French Tennis Federation, stated that player mental health is a “priority for Roland Garros.”
The tennis industry’s adoption of such cutting-edge and innovative measures to tackle online abuse while offering players psychological support is highly commendable. While some players, such as world number one Iga Swiatek, have already signed up and are lauding the app as a “step forward in the right direction,” not everyone is interested in using AI software to protect themselves online.
World number six Coco Gauff noted, while she admires the French Open’s effort, she would not be using Bodyguard since she has already implemented a filter on her Instagram. She believes the issue can be handled by filtering messages and sharing only with those who follow her.
Online abuse is widespread, affecting many sportsmen and sportswomen, with football players speaking out regularly on the issue after the Euro 2020 final, whereby England players, including Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, and Bukayo Saka, were racially abused online after their defeat by Italy. In response to Townsend’s post, former Olympic champion Monica Puig called on the ATP and WTA to make a more significant effort to protect players.
The introduction of the Bodyguard system is a significant milestone in the advancement of player protection from online abuse. While more must be done to tackle the issue, it is a positive sign that the sporting world is taking collective action to ensure player safety and well-being. With each step, tennis can continue to strengthen its position as a sport that respects and values its athletes.