Social media ‘monster’ can ruin a career: Huegill

Reuters, SYDNEY

Wed, Jul 27, 2011 - Page 19

Australian swimmer Geoff Huegill has warned fellow athletes against injudicious use of social media at next year’s London Olympics, saying it could ruin their careers.

The twice Olympic medalist, who is aiming to take part in his third Games in London, continued his comeback with a bronze medal in the 50m butterfly at the world championships in Shanghai on Monday.

A frequent user of Twitter, the 32-year-old said he was concerned that International Olympic Committee (IOC) guidelines on the use of social media were unclear.

“It’s extremely gray; how on earth can officials and authorities control this monster?” he wrote in a column in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph yesterday. “Forget drugs in sport, and even match-fixing, social media has the potential to ruin an athlete’s career and tarnish a country’s reputation.”

Huegill’s fellow Australian swimmer, Stephanie Rice, apologized last year after losing a sponsor as a result of a tweet that contained a homophobic slur.

“We are all aware of the risks that can destroy an athlete’s reputation in the blink of an eye from the moment they press that send button,” Huegill said. “It can start out as simply venting frustration, but all of a sudden can snowball out of control and prompt a media frenzy.”

The IOC guidelines encourage athletes to use social media and “post, blog and tweet their experiences” at the London Games.

Bloggers and tweeters must, however, restrict themselves to “first-person, diary-type formats,” must not report on events in the manner of journalists and must ensure their posts do not contain “vulgar or obscene words or images.”

All social media activity must respect the Olympic Charter, which bans political demonstrations, although that is likely to be less of a concern in London than it was in Beijing.

Anybody who is considered to have breached the guidelines could have their Olympic accreditation removed, which would effectively bar them from the Games.

“To all of the athletes who actively use their Twitter accounts, my only advice would be to really think before you hit that send button,” Huegill said. “What starts off as a moment of frustration or a cheap laugh might just offend someone but, more importantly, ruin your Olympic dream.”