Tom Degun: Twitter is fast looking like the one uncontrollable element of London 2012

Tuesday, 26 July 2011
Tom Degun(1)As we approach one year to go to the London 2012 Olympic Games, it is fair to say that things have gone unbelievably well for the event.

There have certainly been a couple of hiccups - most notably the criticism that surrounded the sale of Olympic tickets not too long ago - but as London 2012 chairman Sebastian Coe accurately explains: "There is no system you can put in place given that scope and that scale that is ever going to be perfect."

And despite the ticket "fiasco", the issue would barely have got a mention if it had happened in the chaotic build up to the Athens 2004 Olympics or more recently the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games, where a major bridge collapsed outside the main stadium in the Indian capital just days before the start of the event felt like a run-of-the-mill occurrence for those of us in the media that were stationed there for the competition.

However, one subject is starting to crop up on a far more continual basis and it is an issue that looks rather more difficult for the London 2012 Organisers - and perhaps more relevantly the head coaches for the 26 Olympic and 20 Paralympic sports at the Games - to control.

It is the issue of social media - and more specifically Twitter.

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It all started earlier this month when the British Olympic Association (BOA) launched a grand unveiling of their London 2012 Team GB House, which is located at the rather impressive Westfield Stratford City that overlooks the Olympic Park.

All the BOA big hitters were out, with chairman Colin Moynihan and chief executive Andy Hunt making the keynote speeches, but perhaps the most noteworthy discussion of the day came when Sir Clive Woodward, the director of sport for the BOA, revealed the code of conduct that has been drawn up for Team GB athletes at the Games.

Undoubtedly, the credentials of Sir Clive as a winner in elite sport are difficult to question and so respected is he in the world of rugby, after he steered England to World Cup glory as head coach in 2003, that his mere presence from afar has caused a complete tsunami at the Rugby Football Union (RFU) due to the fact he did not take up the role of Performance Director at the organisation earlier this year.

However, it was interesting to see at the BOA event that even the master disciplinarian seemed to admit he has no control over what the British athletes write on Twitter.

"One of my favourite lines is how do you want to be remembered?" Woodward said.

"I think there could be nothing worse, if it was me, and someone said because of what I did on Twitter cost them a medal or caused all this aggravation in this event which we are all incredibly proud to be involved in."

Fair point, but a plea to athletes rather than an order?

The problem is Twitter bans are difficult to impose. It comes down to freedom of speech, recognised as a human right under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

So while coaches might like to ban athletes from Twitter, it seems they are not able to.

One head coach who I am sure would love to ban the forum is UK Athletics head coach Charles van Commenee.

I sat less than a few metres away from the Dutchman at a lunch oganised by the Sports Journalists' Association (SJA) earlier this month when he said: "I don't think sanctions [on Twitter] are feasible or will prevent incidents from happening."

Van Commenee was responding to a question regarding his high profile row with triple jump world champion and London 2012 gold medal prospect Phillips Idowu.

Van Commenee was upset that Idowu withdrew from the European Team Championships on Twitter but claimed: "We have both decided to leave the incident behind us."

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Not according to Idowu.

In a radio interview on BBC Radio 5 live, the 32-year-old claimed: "I don't want anything to do with [Van Commenee].

"He embarrassed me on TV, so he should apologise.

"I haven't spoken to Charles since that incident and I have said that I won't speak to him until he publicly apologises.

"Until then I don't want anything to do with him.

"I'm moving on and focusing on the job at hand which is to compete.

"I won't stop tweeting.

"I'm being myself, winning events and having fun.

"It's a way for me to engage directly with my fans without having my words twisted."

Not what van Commenee would have wanted to hear.

For the sake of British athletics, this must be sorted out - according to British triple jump legend and world record holder Jonathan Edward - but the fact of the matter is that this will not be the last time we see a high profile Twitter row in the build up to London 2012.

Sandwiched in between the BOA event and van Commenee SJA lunch, I attended The Sports Leisure and Marketing Conference "Examining the global impact of the Olympics" which took place at Northampton University.

The keynote speech came from Professor Andy Miah from the University of the West of Scotland.

Miah described London 2012 as the "Twitter Olympics" and stated that it is no longer a case of "if you are computer literate or not, but how computer literate you are".

He outlined that Twitter is just one social networking communication source open to us and that even if there are bans on its use, there are ways around them.

A clear example of this came at the World Aquatics Championships where athletes faced with China's bans on Twitter and Facebook opened accounts with local equivalents, boosting their profile in the country.

British teenage diving star Tom Daley led the trend after he began posting updates and pictures on Tencent, one of the leaders in China's fast-growing microblogging sector.

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A Tencent staff member said Daley attracted 10,000 followers in one day after he opened the account earlier this year.

He now has around 343,000 followers - more than triple the number he has on Twitter.

Communication departments have been tasked with attempting to handle social media at London 2012 but it is becoming increasingly difficult to see what they can really do to anybody posting anything they like.

So perhaps we have now identified the one uncontrollable element of London 2012 as you simply can't stop people writing what they feel and even the great "super injunction" doesn't seem to be able to halt the unstoppable Twitter.

And if you don't believe me, just ask Ryan Giggs.

Tom Degun is a reporter for insidethegames. To follow him on Twitter click here
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