Sochi Olympics – not so social

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It’s common knowledge that Australians love their sport and are passionate about supporting their sporting heroes. With this in mind, it comes as no surprise that the recent decision by the Australian Olympic Committee to place a partial social media ban on athletes competing in the Sochi Winter Olympics has received mixed reactions.

Phones and iPad’s won’t be confiscated, instead athletes have been warned that there will be consequences if the guidelines, such as no social media during all periods of training and competition, are not adhered to.  The imposed ban equates to around 14 social media free hours for Australian athletes, out of a total of 408 hours each athlete is at the games for.

Australian Chef de Mission (head of the delegation) Ian Chesterman said the partial ban was designed to help athletes focus 100 per cent on their events, after social media was cited as a reason for some disappointing results at the London 2012 games – the first “social Olympics”.

Mr Chesterman believes the ban will allow athletes to focus solely on their events and protect them from any negative commentary prior to competing. As the athletes are not just representing themselves, their actions on social media ultimately represent the whole country – a country that has been plagued with sporting social media scandals in the past.

Among these scandals are Australian swimmers Nick D’Arcy and Kenrick Monk, who found themselves in hot water after posting images of themselves with guns in the US, as well as swimmer Emily Seebohm, who believes that she won a silver medal instead of gold because she “didn’t really get off social media and into her own head”.

Despite this, some social media savvy athletes have already taken to Twitter to voice their anger over the ban. Gold medal snowboarder, Torah Bright, plans to protest the ban as she believes it violates the athletes’ rights to communicate.

Looking at the other side of the argument, social media has become an extremely large part of everyday life, especially for athletes who find themselves continuously using social media to engage fans and the wider community. It provides a channel for them to personally connect with fans and allows them to instantly share their side of a story in moments of crisis and glory.

According to research undertaken by Font in 2013, 67 per cent of Tasmanians mentioned they had used at least one form of social media in the last year. It was also found that 55 per cent of respondents were using social media to keep up-to-date with current affairs.

Social media is not just a great method of communication for athletes, it also allows them to develop their personal sporting brands. If athletes are not able to share crucial moments such as a medal win, it could see them missing a vital chance to communicate with fans and build their profiles.

The decision to place the partial ban was made based on best-practice models of some of the world’s most successful athletes, which gives some form of proof as to how beneficial it may be, but the question still remains as to whether it is taking away the athletes’ right to communicate.

Imagine how it might feel to have everyone know your big news, such as the win of a gold medal, before you had a chance to share it. But who knows, with the extra distraction of social media it might have only been silver.

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