Olympic Committee Sets Social Media Rules for Athletes

The International Olympic Committee is looking to leverage social media drive engagement with the global sporting event, in part by encouraging competitors to "post, blog and tweet their experiences" during the upcoming summer Olympics in London, scheduled to take place July 16-August 15, 2012. The possibility of interacting with athletes, or at least hearing their thoughts first-hand, is an obvious attraction for spectator sports -- but the IOC is also at pains to protect the commercial interests of broadcast and merchandising partners.

Accordingly, athletes won't be allowed to use social media, including Twitter, Facebook and personal blogs, for advertising, selling products, or sharing videos from the Olympic venues. The IOC instructions read: "Postings, blogs or tweets should be in a first-person, diary-type format and should not be in the role of a journalist. Participants and other accredited persons cannot post any video and/or audio of the events, competitions or any other activities which occur at Olympic venues." In other words, people who want to actually see what athletes did will have to tune in on TV, or an associated online property. Furthermore, no website URLs may contain the words "Olympic" or "Olympics" in their primary domain name without approval from the IOC.

Acknowledging the potential for trash-talking, the IOC also discouraged athletes from commenting on their opponents, and urged them to conform with the general "spirit" of the Olympics; thus all social media posts should "be dignified and in good taste, and not contain vulgar or obscene words or images." But again the focus is on showing the personal, human side of the competition, the IOC emphasized: "Apart from that, we want people to share as much as possible their personal experience of the games."

The IOC said the new rules are being formulated ahead of time to avoid the kind of confusing situation which arose during the 2010 Vancouver games, when some athletes assumed there was a social media blackout. Others were concerned that brands appearing on their home pages (who weren't official Olympic sponsors) might violate the events' sponsorship agreements.

I've always thought it was a good idea to let athletes tweet and otherwise update social media during games, provided it's done in a way that doesn't violate the rules, give an unfair advantage, or allow cheating. But many professional sports organizations aren't so sure. For example, previously I wrote about the fact that NFL players who use social media during a game are liable for a $25,000 fine. This is part of a communications blackout which decrees players may not use cell phones, electronic devices, or social media including Twitter or Facebook within 90 minutes of kickoff.

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