‘Society is to blame for Henry quitting social media’

Paul Okey
Thierry Henry Montreal Impact gesturing
Thierry Henry Montreal Impact

Arsenal chief Vinai Venkatesham has backed Thierry Henry’s “really powerful” stance against online racism.

Henry, the Gunners’ all-time leading goalscorer, quit social media this week saying he had “had enough” of discussing racism.

The former Monaco and Montreal Impact boss vowed he would only return once something had been done to tackle racism across the platforms.

FEATURE: Every Premier League club’s most ‘influential’ player

The likes of Eddie Nketiah, Willian, Nicolas Pepe, Hector Bellerin and Granit Xhaka have been the target of online abuse in recent months – sometimes from accounts claiming to support Arsenal.

It prompted the FA Cup holders to launch an action plan earlier this week called #StopOnlineAbuse as part of the club’s Arsenal for Everyone programme.

And, with Mikel Arteta’s family also having been a target for online vitriol, Venkatesham praised Henry’s decision to step back from social media.

“It was really powerful,” said Venkatesham.

“He said he was taking himself off all social media channels and wasn’t putting himself back on until he thinks it is safe – that is powerful I think.

“He sounds like he got to the point where he felt he needed to do something and the phrase is “enough is enough” and I think that there are more and more people out there getting to the point where they can’t put up with it any more.

“It is not an Arsenal issue, it is not a football issue, it is not a sporting issue – it is a societal issue where people think they can hide behind a cloak of anonymity and say whatever they want to people.

“Players are all human beings, they all have the same frailties that we all do and they get really affected by this stuff, they are not these anonymous people who don’t have feelings and don’t read this stuff – they do and it has a profound effect on people.

“Thierry is a good example. He’s chosen to take himself completely off it. We’ve taken a different approach which is to try and use the following we have to drive this message. There is no right or wrong and we are going to continue to think about what our approach is along the way.”

The majority of Arsenal’s first-team squad are active on social media, with captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and defender Bellerin among the more prolific users.

Arsenal have issued a four-point list of demands to social media companies, including adding their voices to calls for users to be verified with ID, that offensive messages be blocked before they are even received and for sites to significantly improve their measures to deal with abusive posts.

However, Venkatesham has stopped short of issuing a ban on social media at the training ground.

He added: “I would say on this issue, probably the best phrase to use is ‘nothing is off the table’.

“I don’t think we have seen any issues at Arsenal that I’m aware of about a player’s mental preparation for a match being affected.

“Most of the abuse, as you have seen from all the examples that are well-publicised, seems to happen just after a match where someone is unhappy with what happened in the match and decides that they are going to upload this view of vitriolic abuse at somebody.”