BT’s Hope United and the UEFA Foundation for Children kicked off a match at Crusaders FC Seaview grounds today on the eve of the Super Cup to raise awareness about the devastating impact of online hate in sport and among young people.
Hope United, a campaign launched by BT, broadcasters of the UEFA Super Cup, brings together a diverse team of footballers from Northern Ireland, England, Wales, and Scotland with the aim of driving change by giving digital skills to people on how to protect themselves and others online.
The match involved children aged between 14 and 17 from community projects across Northern Ireland that are helping to bridge the sectarian divide and care for refugees who have settled here.
Organised by the Irish FA, who are hosting the Super Cup, the game was treated like a professional match in that it was filmed by six cameras and presented by Rio Ferdinand and Eniola Aluko, with Darren Fletcher and Steve McManaman in the commentary booth. Glenn Hoddle and Joe Cole managed the two teams, and the match features in a Hope United documentary that will be broadcast ahead of the Super Cup.
This year’s UEFA Super Cup between Chelsea and Villarreal, which is taking place on Wednesday 11 August will also use the opening ceremony to raise awareness about online hate in sport and among young people with the help of Hope United.
During the pre-match ceremony, children selected by the Irish FA foundation and Rio Ferdinand foundation will carry a Unite Against Hate banner and read a message of hope promoting respect and solidarity online.
Commenting on the Hope United match, the England and Manchester United legend Rio Ferdinand, said: “My work, both on and off the pitch, has taught me that there is no hiding place from social media abuse. Passions run high during big football tournaments and having seen the devastating effect that can result from online hate first-hand, it is more important than ever that sport unites to combat it.”
Playing in the match today, Niamh Coyle, a sixteen-year-old who plays for Sion Swifts Ladies’ football club in County Tyrone, said: “I’ve been playing football since I was five years old and I love the game. I travel three times a week from Strabane to Belfast for training, a six hour round trip and that’s really challenging for me as I’m also preparing for my 10 GCSEs.
“I have Friends who’ve experienced abuse and I’ve helped them through it, making sure they know online abuse is not okay and to just keep playing football. Playing in this match has been really special to me and I hope I can achieve my aim to play for Northern Ireland’s Women’s Team one day.”
Urs Kluser, General Secretary of the UEFA Foundation for Children, added: “Young people are all too often victims of hate messages and harassment on social media and it is our duty to defend them. Thanks to the BT Tech Tips to beat online hate, young people can access real tools that teach them how to detect and respond to abuse but also learn to be more conscious about their own action online and to lead by example.”
Simon Green, MD BT Sport, said: “As lead partner of the home nations football teams, we’re asking the UK to take a stand against hate speech on social media as well as giving everyone the knowledge and tools they need to be part of the solution.
“As a major sports broadcaster, we launched our Hope United team and campaign at the start of the Euros to bolster the fight against online hatred. The campaign has been well received but the continued abuse online shows how far we have to go. No one should ever dread getting online in fear of abuse. Nobody should feel unsafe.”