"Dorna threw me under the bus..." - WorldSBK champ Rea on vicious online abuse

Six-time WorldSBK champion Jonathan Rea opens up about his run-in with trolls on social media after the furore of a controversial penalty in 2021

Jonathan Rea, Toprak Razgatlioglu

Jonathan Rea has expressed his shock at the vehement abuse he received online during his 2021 WorldSBK Championship title fight with Toprak Razgatlioglu, revealing he was left in a ‘really bad place’ after ‘being thrown under the bus’ by Dorna over a video it published showing him querying his rival’s win.

After six consecutive WorldSBK titles, Rea came up against a formidable foe in Razgatlioglu last season as the pair fought it out for the glory, with the Ulsterman’s Yamaha rival eventually coming out on top.

However, while the pair are friends off track, their rivalry peaked during the Magny-Cours round when Rea - having been beaten to the line in the Superpole Race - queried whether Razgatloglu had exceeded track limits on the final lap.

The brief conversation, with Kawasaki Racing Team boss Guim Roda, was captured by a Dorna videographer and posted to its official website. When stewards proceeded to review the footage, it agreed Razgastlioglu had committed an offence, prompting it to reverse the results and give the victory to Rea.

The controversial decision led to fevered comment on the matter, with Rea going on to receive an influx of abuse on social media in the most extreme manner.

With little to choose between the two riders at the time of the incident, Rea emphasises he was well justified to raise the grievance but is angry at Dorna for spurring the abuse that followed by ‘painting him as the real villain’.

“I could see he was on the green, it was clear, and I was fighting for points," Rea told the BBC Bike Podcast. “It's a world championship on the line, I don't train hard, make sacrifices regarding my family time and risk my life, everything, just to accept somebody taking advantage of a situation.

"My team and manufacturer don't put millions of euros a year into the sport for me to accept that. 

"Dorna [the exclusive commercial and TV rights holder for WSB] threw me under the bus a bit, putting words in my mouth in a video. If that hadn't gone out it would have been ok. They painted me as a real villain and weren't very apologetic about it either.

"I was on my way home on my own and checked my Instagram. My mate had put up a generic race quote and there were 500 comments within an hour of the post...one was like 'you're going to die', 'we know where you live', 'you're this and you're that'. I felt terrible.

"I got sucked into reading all these terrible comments. I'm so lucky with my fans, I generally get 95% love and 5% hate but this time was the opposite, so I wasn't in a great place."

While Rea emphasises he also finds social media as a useful tool to engage with fans and to promote his sponsors, the father-of-two feels more needs to be done to educate on the impact it can have on mental health

"I don't think you can get away from it. It should almost be a subject at school, it's such a powerful tool," added the Northern Irishman.

"I can't complain about social media because I use it to my advantage. I have sponsors that are really interested in my social media side and there are financial benefits so there's a positive side to it as well as the negatives.

"If you're not in a good place it's going to be tough. I said to my media people, 'I'm not this monster these people are making me out to be'.

WorldSBK, fans and the power of engagement

Rea’s comments about social media aren’t anything new. Indeed, the very nature of sport with its rivalries and ‘there can be only one winner’ premise leaves sportspeople vulnerable to attacks from partisan fans on the opposing side

Perhaps more concerning, however, is our general desensitisation on the issue. With billions of people utilising multiple social media platforms for all manner of purposes, the sheer size and ubiquitousness of it makes it difficult to comprehend tackling it at the root cause.

However, this is no consolation to a victim, who stands alone in taking the full weight of a torrent of abuse concentrated in one direction.

Rea wasn’t the only rider to be on the receiving end of trolling in 2021 after Garrett Gerloff was chastised online for a collision with Razgatlioglu during last year’s Assen round.

In an interview with Crash.net, the American reveals how he received death threats in the aftermath. While he says he was able to brush it off eventually and channel his efforts into a more positive headspace off track, he admits he was taken aback by the strength of abuse he received.

“It can turn on you quick,” he said. "You mess up and you go from being a legend to being someone everyone wants to see die basically! 

"I was getting some threats… I wasn’t worried, it was more ‘who are you people?’ Don’t you guys have other things to worry about? They are so quick to react off of an incident. It’s a situation I had never been in before."