Olympics athletes can tweet away in 2012, according to the event’s governing committee, as long as they don’t get political, try to do a journalist’s job, or post a photo of what’s under their uniform.
The International Olympic Committee, or IOC, posted social media guidelines on its website, saying athletes may be stripped of their ability to compete if they make statements that could be viewed as a political demonstration, use the event for commercial purposes or are caught posting X-rated photos.
“First-person, diary-type” entries are all that’s allowed, the IOC said.
The IOC is catching on to the power of social media, recognizing a journalist — or anyone else — can print or re-tweet a comment on an athlete’s Twitter page just as easily as they can broadcast a quote from them on the field — or court or pool deck.
At the heart of the guidelines is a central recognition that Twitter is no longer a casual micro-blogging service, but a powerful communication platform with a wide reach, playing a powerful role in media, politics and now worldwide sports.
With the ability to disrupt promising careers with an ill-timed tweet — such as in the case of Anthony Weiner — the desire of the IOC to regulate athletes’ participation on Twitter should come as no surprise.
Media outlets, for example, can also use Twitter content to create controversy. Numerous athletes have posed nude for Playboy after the games without repercussions from the IOC, but the media could have a field day with an X-rated photo posted on social media during the Olympics.
This isn’t the first time Olympians have been offered social media guidelines. In 2008, at the Beijing Olympics, athletes were not supposed to post photos, audio or video inside Olympic venues.
The rules have relaxed a little for London, where photos are allowed, but video and audio are not, since that may take viewers away from watching Olympic broadcasts, a privilege for which networks pay large sums of money.
So far, Olympians have followed social media rules, but athletes have stirred up controversy with Twitter before. Earlier this month, for example, U.K. Athletics Head Coach Charles van Commenee blasted triple-jumper Phillips Idowu for saying on Twitter he was pulling out of the European Team Championships.
Commenee said such a thing should be announced through the “certain channels” and not spouted on a social site.
Social media may seem like a safe place to converse with friends, especially for the younger athletes who grew up with Facebook and Twitter. But the IOC wants to remind them Olympic Charter rules and guidelines can be breached online, and getting banned from the games for a tweet is a real possibility.
As the technology ages and the IOC gathers more examples of how tweets by athletes caused trouble, more guidelines are sure to come by the time the Olympics move to Rio.