Last month, Egyptian footballer and Liverpool star Mohamed Salah appeared on the cover of Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. This recognition was not only a celebration of his iconic achievements on the football field but for his efforts towards “breaking down barriers" beyond football.

A new study now shows exactly Salah may be breaking down barriers in society. In a short space of time the Liverpool forward, who is also a Muslim, has become tremendously popular among the club’s fans. In the study, the authors, Ala’ Alrababa’h and others, argue that Salah’s popularity may have inspired Liverpool fans to be more tolerant of Islam, dramatically decreasing Islamophobia and hate crimes.

The study examined three sets of data to measure Salah’s impact: the rates of hate crimes from 25 different police departments over the course of three years, 15 million tweets from UK soccer fans, and a survey of 8,060 Liverpool fans.

The results reveal that, after Liverpool signed Salal, there was an 18.9% drop in hate crimes in Merseyside county, where Liverpool play. The decrease in hate crimes was not recorded in any other county and the drop was not related to any decrease in overall crime. The study also found that anti-Muslim tweets by Liverpool fans halved compared to tweets from fans of other major English clubs. According to the authors, the 26-year-old footballer’s open embracement of his culture and public displays of his faith, both on the field and through his social media accounts, may have driven increased receptiveness towards Islam from fans. More broadly, the authors suggest that positive exposure to a different religion via role models like Salah can increase tolerance and understanding.

Also Read: Can Exposure to Celebrities Reduce Prejudice? The Effect of Mohamed Salah on Islamophobic Behaviors and Attitudes

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