Athletes racing to share their views with fans at the London Olympics may think twice before hitting “send,” following the first expulsion of an athlete for a racist Twitter remark.
Greek triple jumper Paraskevi Papachristou was withdrawn from the London Olympics on Wednesday after causing an uproar in her home nation for a tweet about “West Nile mosquitoes” and the number of Africans in Greece.
Her expulsion was expected to act as a warning to other athletes who, along with Olympic organizers, are trying to find the best way to harness the power of social media that has exploded since the 2008 Beijing Games.
“The fact that this has happened will make other athletes feel more cautious about what they put out there,” said Rebecca Hopkins, managing director of sports PR agency ENS Ltd that handles crisis media management.
“It is always very difficult to impose a limit on freedom of speech, but the IOC [International Olympic Committee] has set down the guidelines and the athletes have to comply,” she said.
The explosion of social media has created a new challenge for the IOC and for the National Olympic Committees who could previously resolve any indiscretions away from the public eye.
Aware that athletes and their fans are prolific users of social media, the IOC said competitors at the London Games may post, blog and tweet — but within guidelines.
Competitors may write “first-person, diary-type” entries, but should not act as reporters, and social media activity must respect the Olympic Charter which condemns any discrimination. Vulgar or obscene words or images were also ruled out.
Postings deemed to be for commercial or advertising purposes were also on the no-go list.
The IOC made it clear that the accreditations of “any organization or person ... may be withdrawn without notice” if its guidelines are breached and most athletes were aware of the rules.
The sports world has seen a fair number of social media abuses in recent years, particularly among soccer players.
The English Football Association and New Zealand Rugby Union responded by banning their players from using social media during recent soccer and rugby union World Cups.
So far only a handful of Olympians have landed in hot water.
Australian swimmer Stephanie Rice lost a lucrative endorsement deal with Jaguar two years ago after tweeting a comment seen as homophobic.
Australian swimmers Nick D’Arcy and Kenrick Monk have been banned from using social media in London by the Australian Olympic Committee, after posting a photo of themselves brandishing guns on Facebook while training in the US.
They have also been ordered to return home immediately after their events in London.