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The athletes competing at the Summer Olympic Games in London aren’t lacking for attention from traditional media. But in the era of pervasive social media like Facebook and Twitter, many of the competitors are discovering the benefits and pitfalls of communicating directly with their own audiences. Just this week, a triple jumper from Greece was pulled from her team because of incendiary comments she made on Twitter. We explore the convergence of social media and the Olympics in the modern era.
- Lisa Delpy Neirotti Professor of Sports Management and Tourism Studies, George Washington University
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast when a quote is not a quote on reporters letting their subjects alter or delete what they said. But first the dreams of one Olympic athlete have come to an end before the games officially begin. Triple jumper Voula Papachristou of Greece was ousted from her country's team after sending a racially insensitive Tweet earlier this week.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIWith more and more athletes taking to social media, she may not be the only one to end up in hot water before these games are over. Here to explain the rules set in place for athletes using social media and to give us an update ahead of the Olympics' opening ceremony tomorrow is Lisa Delpy Neirotti, professor of tourism and sport management at the George Washington University School of Business. She joins us by phone from England. Lisa, thank you so much for joining us.
MS. LISA DELPY NEIROTTIThank you.
NNAMDIYou have said that these are really the first Olympic Games at which social media use will be widespread and it looks like we're already seeing the consequences. What happened?
NEIROTTIYes. This is the first time that actually they're allowed to engage in social media (word?) and Tweeting. And it's unfortunate for this athlete that, you know, she's just not so aware of the impact of any conversation you have online and how viral it is. And unfortunately, the National Olympic Committee of Greece has the right to expel an athlete if they do not believe they will represent Greece in a proper way.
NNAMDIAnd for those who are wondering what it is that she Tweeted, it said, "With so many Africans in Greece, the West Nile mosquitoes will at least eat homemade food." People felt that not only to be racially insensitive, but some felt it was outright racist. And so she was not allowed to participate. Any buzz about that in London, people talking about it at all, Lisa?
NEIROTTIOh, there's lots of buzz and, you know, if you read what she actually wrote, it had nothing to do with the Olympics. She was trying to make a joke about her own country. And unfortunately, it's right at the time she's ready to leave for the Olympic Games so it was tied to the Olympics. And, you know, I understand that it's important for the National Olympic Committee feel comfortable with who they send to the Games. And I think this went a little bit too far over the top.
NEIROTTII would suggest that they look at what Australia did with Nick D'Arcy, one of their top swimmers who had also run into problems with social media. And he was banned from doing any sort of social media during the Games. And he'll be sent home immediately after he competes. But I think there was another way to handle this situation.
NNAMDILet me see what others happen to think. You can call us at 800-433-8850. Do you think the Greek Olympic Committee was right to remove Papachristou from the team? 800-433-8850. In case you're just joining us, we're talking about the Olympics with Lisa Delpy Neirotti. She is a professor of tourism and sport management at the George Washington University School of Business. You can also join the conversation online at our website, kojoshow.org. Send us a Tweet at kojoshow or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
NNAMDILisa, it's my understanding that the International Olympic Committee has strict guidelines for social media use among athletes. What do these rules permit and what do they prohibit?
NEIROTTIRight. So this year, they are allowing athletes to write about their experience, but they cannot write anything about another athlete. So you can't say Michael Phelps looked good in the pool or, you know, another athlete ate Wheaties for breakfast because that's acting as a reporter. They can only comment on what they are doing, how they are feeling and what they're seeing so from a personal perspective 'cause otherwise they're acting as journalists versus competitors.
NNAMDIThis athlete was expelled from the Games by her home country's Olympic committee, not the International Olympic Committee. Do individual countries have guidelines in addition to those set by the IOC?
NEIROTTIWell, the U.S. Olympic Committee has decided to just use the International Olympic Committee's guidelines. And they did not create any other guidelines. I've encouraged, and I think they did talk a little bit to their athletes in the orientation. All athletes go through a processing where they talk about behavior and things to look out for and proper etiquette in a foreign country. And in this orientation, I'm sure they discussed how important it is to think about what they're sending and only to write something that your mother or grandmother would be -- would approve of.
NNAMDIWell, depend on who your mother or grandmother is, but that's another story. One of the other areas covered by the social media guidelines is athletes posting about sponsors. From here, it sounds like there's a big clamp down on stuff marketing. Is it a greater effort than we've seen in years past?
NEIROTTIYes. It's always been -- in the past, the athletes weren't even allowed to Tweet or blog. So this is kind of opening up. But there are strict guidelines on athletes that they cannot endorse or mention any type of product. And they -- and also the guidelines are just each year they've learned more and more about how other companies are trying to attach themselves or associate with the Games. So they've really come down on -- and provided clear guidelines on you can't use these words associated with these other words. And it's just making it hard for anybody to ambush markets, meaning to associate their brand with the Olympics.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones, here is Yoded in Washington, D.C. Yoded, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Yoded, are you there?
YODEDYes, can you hear me?
NNAMDII hear you, Yoded.
YODEDOkay. Hi. I wanted to point out that the athlete who was eliminated from the Greek team was not only eliminated for that statement, but for a record of her statements. When the Greeks looked at her Twitter record, she was promoting a wild right wing party, which is violent towards immigrants as well as fellow politicians. If you can recall a month or so ago, one of them assaulted two other women on the air.
NNAMDIIndeed, Yoded. And that party known as the Chrysi Avgi Golden Dawn did win 7 percent of the vote in the recent elections, sending it to parliament for the first time since democracy was restored in Greece in 1974. But the party won that 7 percent of the votes, it would seem because of its, well, very high octane position against immigration.
YODEDRight. And the Greeks are again allowed to choose, their Olympic committee, who they want to represent them.
NNAMDIBut I was interested, Lisa Delpy Neirotti, in whether or not you feel that the Olympic committee in Greece took into consideration not just the Tweet, but the general actions, as Yoded has been pointing out, of Voula Papachristou having to do with that party?
NEIROTTIYes. And some people here are saying that there may be more to do with politics as well. And they're making this a point to have it as a discussion and to show that they are against anything that she was saying.
NNAMDIYep, thank you very much for your call, Yoded. Here is Jerome in Silver Spring, Md. Jerome, your turn.
JEROMEHi. My question is how old is this Olympiad because if she's just a teen, you do have to take into account that, well, teens will be teens.
NNAMDIOh, I think she's somewhere between 23 and 27 -- 23, I think.
JEROMESo much for that argument then.
NEIROTTIYou know, it's unfortunate that just whether you're young or old, you don't realize the impact of what you say and how viral the internet is.
NEIROTTIAnd your comments, you know, can be just taken and just construed. But, I mean, she did -- you know, it wasn't just the one time, as the other caller mentioned. And I think that is what got her into -- they looked at the history. If this was just one Tweet, maybe it wasn't (unintelligible) .
NNAMDIYep, thank you very much for your call, Jerome. This isn't the first sporting event where race and racism have been an issue this year. Some families of black soccer players had opted not to attend championship games in the Ukraine for fear of racially motivated violence. Is this an issue that organizers of sporting events are being forced to take into account more than ever now than in the recent past, Lisa?
NEIROTTIYes. And again it's just because you can say one wrong thing and then you -- it's picked up. It's easy to be picked up or somebody in a pass may have said something verbally. It's -- you know, nobody would've noticed that. And then you probably heard about the mix up with the flags for North and South Korea at that soccer thing last night.
NNAMDIOh, yes, we certainly heard about that, yeah. Apologies have already been made.
NEIROTTIOh, yes, but that was quite a political situation as well.
NNAMDIWell, we've heard varying reports on how ready or not London is for the start of the game. So we're glad you're there so you can give us your take based on what you've seen.
NEIROTTIThe city is definitely buzzing. Taxicab drivers are not happy because many roads are blocked, but I've been able to manage maneuvering the town quite well. And, you know, the spirit seems high. I must say that the -- London is not as Olympicized, as we call it. You know, in the past like Salt Lake City, Beijing, major buildings were covered with large banners with Olympic-themed pictures. And here, they were very careful to leave the ambiance of London as is. And they have not -- there's a few maybe Olympic flags here and there, but it's not as decorated as many other cities have been.
NEIROTTIOut in East London where the Olympic Park is, that's where they've really put on a lot of the Olympic look, we call it, the look of the Games. But in central London there's not that much recognition of it being an Olympic city.
NNAMDIWell, every time the Olympics come around, there're questions about the lasting benefits and what they will be for the host city. What do you see as being the lasting benefits for London?
NEIROTTIWell, for London, their big calling card here was they redeveloped a whole area east London that had not been developed after it was, you know, bombed in the war. So this was their opportunity to take an area and completely renovate that area. And that's their economic legacy right there.
NNAMDIThere were some, I guess, unexpected developments during the celebration of the Queen's jubilee year. Do you see any aftereffects of that or hear about it in London at all?
NEIROTTIWell, what they've learned was they had to have more people in place in the tube stations. Transportation was very difficult during that time and they had half the visitors that they're expecting at the Olympic Games. So it was a test event and they took a lot of lessons from the jubilee and have improved their system. So hopefully, the Olympic spectators won't experience some of the problems they had during the jubilee.
NNAMDISo can I infer from that that even though the taxi drivers may be upset, public transportation seems to be working well in London?
NEIROTTIYes. So far I've been traveling all over London on the tubes and have had no problems. They have thousands of people -- public servants working on the street and underground. And it seems very well staffed and managed at this time.
NNAMDILisa Delpy Neirotti is professor of tourism and sports management at the George Washington University School of Business. She joins us -- or joined us by phone from England. Lisa, thank you very much. And since we're enjoying this vicariously through you, have a good time.
NEIROTTIThank you very much. I'm off to watch the torch come into Hyde Park.
NEIROTTIWe'll be with you. Thank you very much for being with us. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, when a quote is not a quote, on reporters and their relationships with their subjects or sources. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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