Manchester United have exposed the stark levels of abuse aimed at their players ahead of a four-day social media boycott.

Football clubs and players all over England will be joined in the action, which runs from 1500 BST on Friday until 2359 BST on Monday, by UEFA and major bodies across cricket, rugby union, tennis, rugby league and other sports.

The move follows an increase in online abuse aimed at sportspeople, with United's research offering a glimpse at how bad the problem is.

United revealed a 350 per cent increase in abuse directed towards their players since September 2019, with 86 per cent of 3,300 abusive posts categorised as being racist in nature.

A further eight per cent were deemed homophobic or transphobic.

"It must be said that while these numbers are shocking, they do only represent a 0.01 per cent of conversations that take place on social media about the club and the players," said group managing director Richard Arnold.

"By taking part in this boycott this weekend, we, alongside the rest of English football, want to shine a light on the issue. It will generate debate and discussion and will raise awareness of the levels of abuse our players and our fans receive."

An announcement of the boycott came jointly last Saturday from numerous organisations in football, including the Premier League, the English Football League, the Football Association, the Professional Footballers' Association, the Women’s Super League and the Women’s Championship.

"While some progress has been made, we reiterate those requests today in an effort to stem the relentless flow of discriminatory messages and ensure that there are real-life consequences for purveyors of online abuse across all platforms," the groups said in a release.

"Boycott action from football in isolation will, of course, not eradicate the scourge of online discriminatory abuse, but it will demonstrate that the game is willing to take voluntary and proactive steps in this continued fight."

Since that statement was released, other bodies have declared they will join the boycott from across various sports, with cycling, horseracing and hockey also on board.

Football's European governing body, UEFA, also pledged its support in a strongly worded statement from president Aleksander Ceferin on Thursday.

"We've had enough of these cowards who hide behind their anonymity to spew out their noxious ideologies," he said.

The move instigated by England's footballing bodies follows them sending a letter to social media companies in February, urging them to take numerous steps to take down online abuse, including quick removal of offensive posts and an improved verification process.

Some within the game have already taken individual action to protest, with Thierry Henry withdrawing from all social media platforms until the issue is appropriately addressed.

Henry's stance came after a spate of incidents of vile abuse being aimed at sportspeople online.

Chelsea put out a statement in January after Reece James was targeted, saying: "Something needs to change and it needs to change now."

Manchester United duo Anthony Martial and Axel Tuanzebe were also racially abused online after the side's loss to Sheffield United, with manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer calling for stronger intervention from social media platforms.

English rugby and cricket will follow football in a social media boycott aimed at combatting the ongoing problem of online abuse.

Last Sunday, it was announced that teams from the top men's and women's leagues in England would not post to their social media accounts from Friday until next Monday, with players expected to follow suit.

A joint statement from governing bodies including the FA, the Premier League, the Women's Super League and the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA), confirmed the action was aimed at demonstrating "that the game is willing to take voluntary and proactive steps in this continued fight".

On Wednesday, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) confirmed all 18 first-class county sides, as well as regional women's teams and the Professional Cricketers' Association (PCA) "will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the football community" by taking part in the blackout.

PCA chief executive Rob Lynch said: "Social media companies have to do more. Our members are often victims of horrific online abuse with little or no punishment for the perpetrators and this has to change.

"A unified silence from players and the wider game is a powerful stance to show that our members will not allow social media companies, which have brought so much benefit to the game, to continue to ignore and fail to prioritise the need for appropriate legislation in protecting people against online discriminatory behaviour."

On Thursday, England Rugby announced that all social media channels run by the Rugby Football Union (RFU) would also join the boycott, along with leading clubs.

Sarah Hunter, who this month captained England to a third successive Women's Six Nations title, said: "No professional sportsperson should have to suffer abuse, racism or harassment on social media.

"We've all seen how social media can help bring fans and players closer together but this does not mean abuse should be ignored.

"While we have an important Test match in France on Friday, we understand there are bigger and more important issues and hopefully this is an important statement that online hate will not be tolerated."

Cricketer turned commentator Michael Holding believes British society and its media are all talk and little action when it comes to championing equal rights for all, more specifically the Black Lives Matter movement.

LaLiga has found "no evidence" that Cadiz's Juan Cala racially abused Valencia's Mouctar Diakhaby.

Play was halted during the first half of Sunday's clash between the sides following an altercation involving Cala and Diakhaby, after which the Valencia player and his team-mates left the pitch.

Diakhaby did not return for the remainder of the game, which resumed after a 20-minute delay, while Cala was substituted at half-time.

In a video posted on Twitter, Diakhaby said Cala called him "negro de mierda" which translates as "black s***".

Cala maintained his innocence at a subsequent news conference, insisting he had simply told Diakhaby to "leave me in peace".

The Spanish top-flight's governing body released a statement on Friday after concluding its investigation into the incident, which included the use of lip reading experts.

"After the analysis of the material, it is concluded that no evidence has been found... that the player Juan Torres Ruiz (Juan Cala) insulted Mouctar Diakhaby in the terms denounced," it read.

"Specifically, the audiovisual and digital files available have been examined, the audio of the meeting, the images broadcast and what was disseminated on the different social networks have been analysed.

"In order to complement the report, a specialised company has been hired, which has carried out a lip reading analysis of the conversations and a study of the behaviour of the players Juan Torres Ruiz and Mouctar Diakhaby.

"LaLiga has shared these reports with the clubs involved and the relevant authorities, so that they form part of those ongoing investigations.

"LaLiga reiterates its condemnation against racism in all its forms and maintains its commitment to permanently fight against any type of demonstration in this regard, which has materialised in the presentation of numerous complaints of hate crimes, including as a private accusation, in previous proceedings."

The Spanish Football Federation is also looking into the matter.

Swansea City have announced a seven-day suspension of all social media activities as the Championship club take a "strong stance" against online abuse and discrimination.

The break in activity involves not just Swansea's official accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, TikTok and Snapchat, but also the first-team players and staff.

Academy players in the under-23 and under-18 squads have also agreed to the week-long boycott, which will start from 17:00 BST on Thursday.

Swansea revealed the move had been decided upon following conversations involving senior club staff, as well as the players and management.

"As a football club, we have seen several of our players subjected to abhorrent abuse in the past seven weeks alone, and we feel it is right to take a stand against behaviour that is a blight on our sport, and society at large," a statement from the club read.

"We will always be unwavering in our support of our players, staff, supporters and the community that we proudly represent, and we are united as a club on this issue.

"We also want to stand with players from other clubs who have had to endure vile discrimination on social media platforms.

"As a club we are also acutely aware of how social media can impact on the mental health of players and staff, and we hope our strong stance will highlight the wider effects of abuse."

Swansea also revealed chief executive Julian Winter had written to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to push for stronger punishment for those guilty of "appalling and cowardly abuse" on their respective platforms.

Swans player Yan Dhanda was abused online following the FA Cup tie against Manchester City on February 10, with the player writing on Twitter in response: "How can this STILL be happening in 2021? I'm so proud of who I am and representing Asians. More has to be done."

Club colleague Ben Cabango was also targeted while away on duty with Wales, along with international team-mate Rabbi Matondo.

The suspension of the club's accounts will cover the away game against Millwall on Saturday, as well as the trip to Sheffield Wednesday on April 13.

Valencia president Anil Murthy has called on LaLiga to do more in the fight against racism after Mouctar Diakhaby was subjected to what he described as an "extremely serious racial insult" against Cadiz.

The top-flight meeting on Sunday – which finished 2-1 to Cadiz – was stopped for 20 minutes after Valencia's players left the field following an altercation between Diakhaby and Cadiz defender Juan Cala.

Valencia's players subsequently walked off the pitch, before returning to the field without Diakhaby, who asked to be taken off.

After the match had restarted, Valencia tweeted their version of events, stating Diakhaby had suffered a "racist insult".

Cadiz issued a statement following the game, insisting any form of racism was not tolerated.

They also added they had no doubts over the honesty of their squad, with Cala having been picked up by television cameras pleading his innocence during the game.

Cadiz coach Alvaro Cervera said: "I saw the same as you did. They left the field alongside the referee because they said that Cala had insulted one of their players.

"Cala says that at no point did he insult the opposition player."

Cadiz confirmed on Monday that Cala would address the media on the subject after training on Tuesday. 

Speaking alongside Diakhaby in a video posted on Valencia's official website, Murthy said: "Yesterday, in our game against Cadiz, we witnessed a flagrant incident of racism. 

"There is no other way to describe it. Our player, Mouctar Diakhaby, was the recipient of an extremely serious racial insult by Juan Cala.

"Although Cala may deny it, we believe Mouctar completely. This type of behaviour should not be tolerated in football and in society in general, and we at Valencia condemn racism in any form. We fully support our player.

"There should be no doubt that Valencia will defend Mouctar Diakhaby to the fullest, and fight to ensure that such lamentable events are not repeated."

Valencia captain Jose Luis Gaya said the team had been told they would be penalised if they did not return to finish the game – a claim backed up by head coach Javi Gracia.

Murthy described Sunday's incident as a "step back in the fight against racism" and has demanded LaLiga change the rules to better protect those who suffer racist abuse.

"We spoke with LaLiga this morning to encourage them to also see their investigation through to the end," he added. "This incident cannot be left behind, and cannot be repeated with any other player for any other team.

"We are saddened that, following the incident, there was no reaction to stop the game, and that it was our players who were the ones to leave the field of play. There cannot be a lack of action in light of these types of situations.

"From now on, we would like to see some kind of reaction to change these protocols, in order to protect those who are vulnerable. If we don't change this, then it will give a bad example to everybody.

"We are proud of the reaction from our team, and we still do not understand why Diakhaby, the recipient of this racial insult, received a yellow card.

"We also do not understand why the players had to return to the pitch due to the regulations not protecting the victims and the team in such cases.

"This must change. Changes have been made in other leagues, and now the same must be done in Spain. 

"We cannot turn a blind eye to something as serious as racism. It is time for a change, and Valencia will go all the way in our support of our player and the fight against racism. A step back in the fight against racism was taken yesterday."

Juan Cala will speak to the media on Tuesday following allegations of racism by Valencia's Mouctar Diakhaby, his club Cadiz have confirmed.

Sunday's LaLiga meeting between the sides – which finished 2-1 to Cadiz – was stopped for 20 minutes after Valencia's players left the field following an altercation between Diakhaby and Cala.

Gabriel Paulista and Kevin Gameiro attempted to defuse the situation before Diakhaby explained his version of events to referee David Medie Jimenez.

Valencia's players subsequently walked off the pitch, before returning to the field without Diakhaby, who asked to be taken off.

After the match had restarted, Valencia tweeted their version of events, stating Diakhaby had suffered a "racist insult".

Following the game, Cadiz issued a statement on their club website, insisting any form of racism was not tolerated.

However, they also added they had no doubts over the honesty of their squad, with Cala having been picked up by television cameras pleading his innocence during the game.

Posting on their official Twitter account on Monday, Cadiz confirmed Cala will address the media following training on Tuesday.

Cadiz have condemned any form of racism, but stood by their players following allegations made by Valencia's Mouctar Diakhaby.

Sunday's LaLiga meeting – which ultimately finished 2-1 to Cadiz – was stopped for 20 minutes after Valencia's players decided to leave the field following an altercation between Diakhaby and Juan Cala, who opened the scoring.

Gabriel Paulista and Los Che goalscorer Kevin Gameiro attempted to defuse the situation before Diakhaby explained his version of events to referee David Medie Jimenez.

Valencia's players subsequently walked off the pitch, before returning to the field without Diakhaby, who asked to be taken off.

After the match had restarted, Valencia tweeted their version of events, stating Diakhaby had suffered a "racist insult".

Following the game, Cadiz issued a statement on their club website, insisting any form of racism was not tolerated.

However, they also added they had no doubts over the honesty of their squad, with Cala having been picked up by television cameras pleading his innocence during the game.

Cadiz's statement read: "We are against any situation of racism or xenophobia, whoever its author is, and we work for its eradication. 

"All the perpetrators of these crimes, whether or not they are from our team, must pay for it.

"We do not doubt the honesty of all the members of our squad, who are firm defenders of the fight against racism, whose attitude has always been exemplary in all the matches that have been played.

"We always demand an attitude of respect and responsibility towards the opponents. We work and we will continue working so that in our football there are no xenophobic behaviors, with a 'NO TO RACISM' with all its forcefulness."

Valencia captain Jose Luis Gaya said that the team had been told they would be penalised if they did not return to finish the game – a claim backed up by head coach Javi Gracia.

"If we didn’t play, they [would have] sanctioned us," Gracia, who reiterated that Diakhaby had been abused, told reporters.

"They told us that if we did not play we would have a very serious sanction. It was a very serious racist insult."

Valencia's players walked off the pitch during their LaLiga meeting with Cadiz after alleged racist abuse was directed towards defender Mouctar Diakhaby.

Sunday's match was stopped after 29 minutes when Valencia captain Jose Luis Gaya led his team from the field.

The incident that sparked Valencia's fury came when Juan Cala – who had opened the scoring – went in for a challenge with Diakhaby.

While initially heading back to his position, Diakhaby suddenly turned and angrily confronted Cala.

Gabriel Paulista and Los Che goalscorer Kevin Gameiro attempted to defuse the situation before Diakhaby explained his version of events to referee David Medie Jimenez. His team-mates then departed in solidarity and play was suspended for 20 minutes before they returned.

Valencia returned without Diakhaby, who was replaced by Hugo Guillamon, but Cala stayed on until he too was substituted at half-time.

The game ended 2-1 to Cadiz, Marcos Mauro scoring an 88th-minute winner.

In a statement from Valencia said: "The team met up and decided to return to the pitch to fight for the badge, but firm in their condemnation of all forms of racism."

Valencia also confirmed that Diakhaby wanted the match to continue, though did not want to carry on playing himself.

"We offer our complete backing to Diakhaby," a tweet read. "The player, who had received a racial insult, requested that his team-mates return to the pitch. We SUPPORT YOU MOUCTAR."

Cadiz did not initially offer a comment though it has been reported that television cameras picked up Cala pleading his innocence. 

According to Gaya, Valencia were told they would forfeit the match if they did not return to the field.

"[Diakhaby] told us he insulted him in a racist way. We went back out to play because they told us they could penalise us with three points and something more," Gaya said, as reported by AFP.

"He asked us to go back. He's gutted, it was a very ugly insult."

Wales captain Gareth Bale would support a boycott of social media sites unless greater action is taken to combat online abuse.

International team-mates Ben Cabango and Rabbi Matondo were victims of racism following the 1-0 friendly win over Mexico last Saturday.

The Football Association of Wales (FAW) said it was "disgusted" by the abuse and urged social media platforms and regulators to take "stronger, more effective and urgent action against this despicable behaviour".

Just two days earlier, former Arsenal and Barcelona star Thierry Henry announced he would be disabling his social media accounts until companies took greater accountability for discriminatory posts.

Speaking ahead of Wales' World Cup qualifier against the Czech Republic on Tuesday, Bale agreed that more must be done to clamp down on such behaviour online.

"Something needs to happen," he said. "I think if everyone came together and decided to boycott social media, to make a statement [I would].

"If everybody did it at once, not just one or two people, and if we did a campaign with a lot of big influential people in sport and other forms of life came off social media to make a statement, then yeah, I think it could help.

"If that was the case, I would be all for that.

"I've had a lot of bad things said to me on social media, but I'm sure if they [Cabango and Matondo] wanted to come to me for advice they know where they am.

"We've had a brief chat, I haven't gone into too much details. They've spoken with representatives of the FAW and we know obviously it's in the hands of the police and an ongoing investigation.

"From my point of view, I try to stay off it because there's so many toxic people trying to say negative things and put you down.

"It's nice to be able to share what we do and how we do things, pictures of training and what we're enjoying doing.

"But looking at those comments sometimes it's best to stay away from it, share what you want to share and don't read too much into the comments because there's some horrible people out there."

England boss Gareth Southgate has left it up to his players to decide whether they will take a knee prior to kick-off against San Marino.

The Three Lions start their qualification campaign for the 2022 World Cup with a fixture against the European minnows on Thursday at Wembley.

Since Project Restart last June, teams across Britain have taken a knee prior to the start of matches in a show of unity against racial abuse and discrimination.

However, with fans still unable to attend matches, the abuse received by players of ethnic minorities has not been stemmed, with several England stars having been the victims of abuse on social media.

Jude Bellingham – Borussia Dortmund's 17-year-old midfielder – has been the latest recipient. 

Several club sides have now stopped taking a knee before matches, while Crystal Palace star Wilfried Zaha recently claimed the symbol was nothing but a token gesture which does not go far enough to tackle the problem.

Last week, former England midfielder and current Rangers manager Steven Gerrard demanded UEFA take action after Glen Kamara alleged to have been abused by Slavia Prague's Ondrej Kudela, who played as the Czech Republic thrashed Estonia on Wednesday.

When asked if England would be taking a knee, Southgate told a news conference: "I've spoken with the leadership team about this last night and I've asked them to talk with the other players.

"I think it's a good process to hear each others' views first and foremost and that's part of how we educate ourselves in all of these different matters and issues.

"The one thing we're very clear on is that we'll be unified in whatever we do and if there's any doubt then I think we'll take the knee.

"I'm hugely respectful of everybody's individual opinions on that. I think there's still an impact from it but I listened to Wilfried Zaha's comments on it, for example, and I thought he spoke really well that it wasn't enough and it seemed to now be just part of the background.

"It's complicated, the debate around whether we should take the knee or not, or walk off the pitch. The core problems are with racism and discrimination – they're the deeper conversations that need to happen.

"The protests help put those conversations on the table but we've got to address the much deeper issues as much as we have to make a symbolic gesture."

Southgate was also asked if players would be best advised to delete social media channels to avoid abuse, though the England manager does not believe that to be a solution.

"The first thing is that clearly it's unacceptable for anybody to be receiving this sort of abuse," he said.

"It's a very complex situation for what action the players might take because [social media] is a brilliant tool for communicating with the fans. With no fans in the stadiums, to lose all contact with the fans is not something we want.

"Equally if that interaction is bringing that negativity and abuse into your life, nobody wants to put up with that.

"We need stricter legislation around the control of those sites. I know that's a complex issue because of people in countries not to have a freedom of speech is a restriction. It's not an easy thing to police because it can be worldwide. We just need to make a stand on everything to say racism is not acceptable."

Borussia Dortmund star Jude Bellingham revealed he received racist abuse on social media as the Bundesliga club and England showed their support.

Bellingham was the subject of abuse following Dortmund's 2-2 draw with Cologne in the Bundesliga on Saturday.

The 17-year-old England midfielder shared a screen grab of racist emojis that were sent to him via Instagram, with the caption: "Just another day on social media…"

Dortmund condemned racism post-match, tweeting: "We stand with you @BellinghamJude. Racism belongs nowhere #BorussiaVerbindet."

England also showed their support on Twitter, adding:  "We continue to be disgusted by the discriminatory abuse our players - and others across the game - are being subjected to online.

"Something needs to change. We stand with you, @BellinghamJude."

Bellingham has score one goal in 35 appearances in all competitions for Dortmund after arriving from Birmingham City at the start of the season.

Dortmund are fifth in the standings, four points adrift of the top four and 18 points behind leaders Bayern Munich.

Bellingham and Dortmund are set to face Manchester City in the Champions League quarter-finals.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is sticking to his guns despite coming in for criticism after stating that athletes like LeBron James should steer clear of politics.

The Milan forward found himself at the centre of controversy after saying the likes of James should "do what you're good at" rather than engage in any kind of activism.

Los Angeles Lakers star James hit back and vowed never to "just stick to sports", insisting he had a role to play as a voice against racism and other pressing societal issues.

James is a friend of former United States president Barack Obama and his own foundation supports a school that is aimed at helping disadvantaged children. 

But Ibrahimovic, who has also been criticised for agreeing to appear in the Sanremo music festival amid the Serie A season, refused to back down.

"Racism and politics are two different things. Athletes unite the world, politics divides it," said the 39-year-old, who was injured in Sunday's 2-1 win over Roma and could be sidelined for up to three weeks, which would rule him out of facing former club Manchester United in the Europa League later this month.

"Everyone is welcome in our environment, it doesn't matter where you come from and we are doing everything to bring people together.

"My message? Athletes should be athletes, politicians should be politicians."

Responding to questions over his appearance at the music event, which spans four days, while Milan fight for the title, the Swede added: "I'm a professional and anyone who knows me, knows that. When I play football I'm only focused on that.

"I want to help Milan, and to give a lot to Italy for everything that it has given me over the years, not only in football.

"I had the chance to be a guest at the festival, one of the most important in Italy, and decided to participate."

LeBron James has vowed never to "just stick to sports" after footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic said he did not support the NBA star getting involved with politics. 

Los Angeles Lakers superstar James has been a powerful voice against racism and police brutality, among a host of social issues, in the United States. 

James is a friend of former United States president Barack Obama and his own foundation supports a school that is aimed at helping disadvantaged children. 

Milan striker Ibrahimovic told Discovery+ Sport in Sweden: "He's phenomenal what he's doing, but I don't like when people, when they have some kind of status and they do politics at the same time as what they're doing. 

"Do what you’re good at, do the category you do. I play football because I'm the best in playing football, I don't do politics. 

"If I would be a political politician, I would do politics. That is the first mistake people do when they become famous and they come in a certain status. 

"Stay out of it, just do what you're best at, because it doesn't look good." 

That outburst was shot down by NBA star James, who said it was important to use his platform to shine a light on inequalities and injustice. 

"At the end of the day, I would never shut up about things," James said. 

"That's wrong. I appreciate about my people and I appreciate about equality, social injustice, racism, systematic voting, voter suppression, things that go in our community, because I was a part of my community at one point and seeing things what's going on. 

"I see what's going on still because I have a group of 300-plus kids at my school that's going through the same thing and they need a voice and I'm their voice. 

"I use my platform to continue to shed light on everything that may be going on, not only in my community but around this country and around the world. There's no way I will ever just stick to sports because I understand this platform and how powerful my voice is." 

James pointed to the time when Ibrahimovic complained of being racially discriminated against in his native Sweden three years ago, because he did not have a traditionally Swedish name.

At the time, Ibrahimovic spoke of "undercover racism" in the Swedish media.

James, therefore, expressed surprise at why Ibrahimovic would make his latest claims.

"I speak from a very educated mind," James said, "so I'm kind of the wrong guy to actually go at, because I do my homework."

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