Time and time again, despite all of the warnings and guidance given to athletes and professionals alike, we still see them using Twitter* as an open message board to vent their opinions to the entire world without having any consideration of their audience. What they haven’t yet grasped is the fact that a tweet is equivalent to standing on a box and shouting your personal opinions (whether politically correct or not) to the entire world for anyone to hear. In principle there is no harm in doing this, what makes a simple tweet dangerous is when your own opinion is interpreted as being offensive to any person, race, age, religion, culture etc.. or when the intention of the tweet is malicious in nature.
You would have thought that after all the media press surrounding the distasteful racial tweet posted by student Liam Stacey about the Bolton Wanderer player Fabrice Muamba earlier in March this year which resulted in him being jailed for 56 days and the Accountant Paul Chambers ‘twitter joke’ about blowing up Robin Hood Airport (to name a few) which not only ended up going all the way to the High Court but also cost Chambers to lose his job and integrity, would have hit home especially at the epic times ahead of athletes.
However, despite all of the media coverage, we saw towards the end of last week, the swift decision of the Greek Olympic Committee (‘GOC’) to expel the Greek triple jumper Voula Papachristou (a favorite to win gold) from the Greek team in respect of a racial tweet posted by her. Although Papachristou deleted the tweet and immediately apologised, the GOC stated her comments were ‘contrary to the values and ideas of the Olympic movement’. Isidoris Kouvelos, the Head of Greece’s Olympic mission made it clear that all Greek athletes would now be banned from ‘expressing personal opinions’ on Twitter until the games were over. Whilst Papachristou and her close ones may see her expulsion as a harsh decision many others will disagree including her many twitter followers.
Of course it’s not always athletes or professionals who cause a stir with tweeting. Only today it’s been reported that a 17 year old man has been arrested on suspicion of malicious tweets sent to Olympic diver Tom Daley accusing him of letting down his late father by missing out on a medal. The investigation is ongoing.
What we should remember is how fortunate we are in the times we live in to be able to communicate directly with athletes themselves; in real time I might add, giving the world an instant insight into their lives, characters, their thoughts and interaction with their supporters which would not have been possible in the past.
The sanctions as we have seen can range from a fine to a custodial sentence and even the loss of opportunity to participate in the London Olympics. Surely it makes sense for all to stop and think before tweeting?
*For the Twitter novices out there, Twitter is an online social networking service and micro blogging service that enables its users to send and read text based messages, known as ‘tweets’.