Around half of the abusive messages were targeted at 12 specific players, who received on average 15 abusive tweets every day.

Twitter was chosen due to its popularity with players, and because it makes data available for research but the study does not take into account the safeguards that are in place.

Ofcom is preparing to regulate technology companies under new Online Safety laws, which will introduce rules for sites, apps, search engines and messaging platforms aimed at protecting users.

"These findings shed light on a dark side to the beautiful game," Ofcom group director for broadcasting and online content Kevin Bakhurst said. "Online abuse has no place in sport, nor in wider society, and tackling it requires a team effort.

"Social media firms needn't wait for new laws to make their sites and apps safer for users. When we become the regulator for online safety, tech companies will have to be really open about the steps they're taking to protect users. We will expect them to design their services with safety in mind."

Twitter said it also removed more than 38,000 abusive tweets, with a spokesperson telling Britain's PA news agency they were "committed" to combatting abuse and did not tolerate harassment on grounds of race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation.

At an Ofcom event at the National Football Museum in Manchester on Tuesday, Manchester United women's player Aoife Mannion said using social media was a "deal with the devil" for female footballers.

"It does allow players to connect with fans and supporters, particularly for women's football because it isn't as well established," she said.

"It is a deal with the devil. We do need it because we need the exposure and visibility we get from it, we don't need the abuse."

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