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In another proud moment for South African motorsport, Roshni Gajjar from Gqeberha, has been announced as one of the first four recipients of the prestigious Global Research Scholarship, awarded by the FIA in support of its United Against Online Abuse (UAOA) campaign.

The four scholars selected will carry out Masters by Research Programmes at Dublin College University with full funding from the FIA Foundation. Their work will help to improve understanding of online abuse against athletes and officials, providing a strong basis for the UAOA coalition’s ongoing efforts to drive behavioural and regulatory change.

Gajjar will join Ana Rodriguez Armendariz (Mexico), a Deputy CMO at the F1 Mexico City Grand Prix; Kimberley Wyllie (Scotland), managing editor of the Women in a Man’s Race Magazine and active participant in the UK Girls on Track programme and Maria Luliano (Italy) who works as a press officer at Italian motor sport governing body, ACI Sport SpA.

All four are established researchers within their respective fields and bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the UAOA Research Centre.

FIA President and Founding Partner of UAOA, Mohammed Ben Sulayem, came out strongly last year against the unacceptable levels of online abuse which are creating a blight on the sport. He believes the level of sustained toxicity has reached crisis point and it is time to take a stand. “I am delighted to welcome our diverse scholarship group. United Against Online Abuse is a knowledge-led campaign, which puts research and insights at the heart of all its activities. Our scholars’ research will be key in helping us build a strong knowledge base in this historically under-researched area,” he says.

The UAOA Research Centre is partnered with the FIA University programme which promotes knowledge and research sharing across the international FIA network. The Research Centre is committed to driving inclusive global scholarships, which upskills researchers from around the world, particularly those outside the EU.

Principal Investigator for UAOA, Professor David Hassan, says, “I would like to congratulate Kimberly, Ana, Roshni, and Maria for this exceptional achievement. We are looking forward to working with them, and learning from their unique perspectives, knowledge, and experience on the topic.”

Motorsport South Africa (MSA) is one of 243 Member Clubs. MSA Chairman and FIA Senate member, Anton Roux praised Gajjar on the work she has already done in the industry and the potential contribution her research offers to mitigate online abuse. He said she had the full support of MSA. “Marshals and officials of the sport need to be applauded rather than subjected to any kind of hate speech on social channels so this initiative is to be applauded. The research will enable us to build a greater understanding of the psychological effects of online abuse and inform our strategic approach to tackling the problem in future and protecting participants from this kind of abuse.”

The research will be conducted over two years, commencing this month, through the Dublin City University Business School. The scholarship recipients aim to achieve a Masters by Research (MPhil) on successful completion.

Gajjar, a chartered accountant and strategy consultant, is a strong proponent of positive, purpose-driven success and integrates her philosophy of “Lift as we Rise” into her consulting and performance coaching work which supports STEM career development in motorsport. This closely aligns with MSA’s related objectives.

Commenting on the scholarships, she says she is honoured and humbled to receive the FIA scholarship award and feels extremely privileged to be part of this game-changing research initiative.

“Online abuse deters people from participating, as it infringes on their human rights and compromises the psychological safety of victims, especially women and young people who are avid social media users. Athletes, officials and volunteers will leave if nothing is done. Sport fuels passion and exercises potential. This opportunity presents a unique privilege to give back; to play my part in the global move to combat online abuse. I hope to make a positive difference,” she says.

Adrian Scholtz, MSA Chief Executive Officer, says Gajjar’s selection will add a South African perspective to the FIA’s UAOA global initiative. “We are also highly supportive that the FIA has selected four women. It is commendable that the FIA has initiated this research to develop evidence-based information to steer online abuse combat strategies. Online abuse goes against the spirit of fair play and has no place in sport.”

Some fast facts:
• It is not just athletes that receive abuse. Fans, coaches, commentators, journalists, referees, sporting administrators, among other stakeholders, also regularly receive online abuse as a result of their involvement in the
sporting context
• Ethnic minorities are far more likely to be targeted by, and exposed to, online abuse
• Appearance is the leading cause of online abuse for teenagers and females, being responsible for 38% of such incidents
• About 28% of children around the world have experienced cyberbullying that is racially motivated
• In the 2019/2020 Premier League season, the Professional Footballers Association found that 43% of EPL players had ‘experienced targeted and explicitly racist abuse on public Twitter’
• During the 2022 World Championships, female athletes received 60% of all
online abuse via Twitter and Instagram
• 19,636 posts confirmed as abusive, discriminatory or threatening have been
reported to platforms during FIFA WORLD CUP QATAR 2022
• The ‘United Against Online Abuse’ campaign (UAOA), pioneered by FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem, is a research-led coalition aiming to tackle the growing epidemic of online abuse and hate speech in sport.

Roshni Gajjar