Liverpool and Italy striker Mario Balotelli has received more than 4 000 racist messages via social media this season, according to new research from British anti-discrimination body Kick It Out.
Arsenal striker Danny Welbeck and Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge have also been targeted with more than a thousand discriminatory messages.
In total, Kick it Out’s research estimates there have been 134 000 discriminatory posts this season, and 39 000 of these directed towards Premier League players.
English football has long prided itself on its anti-racism policies, contrasting them with what has often been seen as a less enlightened approach in other European countries where racist chanting against black players during matches – something no longer commonplace in England – still takes place.
However, Kick it Out’s evidence suggests the anonymity of social media is providing a new platform for racist abuse of footballers in England.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers said he was taken aback by the extent of the abuse directed Balotelli’s way, saying: “I was aware of the findings and I was surprised and shocked.
“I think one message is one too many to be honest. We support all the relevant organisations who are working to stamp all of this out.
“In the modern world and modern football it is something which is very much there, but we need to eradicate all of it out of social life and professional sport,” the Northern Irishman added.
“I think it is the responsibility of us all to help all the various organisations stamp it out.”
Earlier, Kick It Out director Roisin Wood told Britain’s Press Association: “It is really shocking. We knew there was an issue but even we were shocked by how many the players have received. For one player to have received over 8,000 abusive messages is phenomenally awful.
“We don’t see the problem going away. Some of the perpetrators are young people and they need educating that you cannot sit in your room and abuse people like this.”
Balotelli, who has suffered racist abuse throughout a career which started in Italy, was himself banned for one match and fined £25 000 in December after being found guilty of breaching Football Association rules by posting a controversial image of Super Mario on Instagram.
He was charged by the FA over an image he reposted on the social media site that contained the words “jumps like a black man and grabs coins like a jew” underneath a picture of the Nintendo games console character.