Athlete bloggers need to be careful

By ALISON KORN, QMI Agency



I once got into trouble in the middle of the opening ceremonies because I'd written a newspaper article, published that day, about the athlete experience of living in the Olympic Village.

Faced with the scary prospect of losing my accreditation, the Canadian Olympic Committee went to bat for me and in the end I got away with a warning. That's because the rules on "athlete journalism," or whatever you want to call it, were very grey at the time, so it wasn't clear that I'd broken any. It was Sydney 2000.

Fast-forward 10 years and Vancouver is poised to become the blogging Olympics. Athletes nowadays are all over social media -- much to the delight of journalists and fans -- but the rules of the game have become strict and clear.

"Only those persons accredited as media may act as journalists, reporters or in any other media capacity," states the Olympic Charter.

This means that during the Olympics, athlete bloggers will have to watch their words and edit their photos.

As the world's athletes get settled in Vancouver, they're bringing with them an unprecedented array of electronics.

Most of them have one or more phones, along with laptops, video recorders, cameras and DVD players. But since the opening of the Olympic Village Feb. 4, severe restrictions -- what the IOC calls "guidelines" -- are in effect to regulate what athletes can post on their blogs.

Freedom of speech? Not so much for accredited persons in Vancouver/Whistler.

"You can't call it 'My Olympic Blog,' " said Marnie McBean, a Canadian Olympic team mentor and athlete service officer. "They can't be getting paid to post something because that's reporting, and their blog can't exist on a place where there's advertising."

The IOC considers blogging a legitimate form of personal expression and not a form of journalism. But it stipulates that athletes' "personal expression" must be restricted to sharing their own personal experiences. No Olympic symbols, no sound or moving images, no action photos, no opening or closing ceremony pics and no photos of other people without their permission.

McBean, who has been setting up the Canadian athlete lounges in Vancouver and Whistler this week, has started her own blog to share the excitement: Beaver Tales from a McMentor.

"Olympians have never had an easier time to share their adventure," she noted. "We've been talking to them about social media. It's just one of those things that we flag."

The role of technology in the athlete village evolves with every Games.

"In Barcelona 1992 there was this crazy new thing, the INTRAnet, that allowed us, as athletes to send notes to each other," McBean wrote.

"In Atlanta 1996 after using the 'hand print' identification to enter the village, it seemed that everyone had a pager -- we felt so available.

"In Sydney 2000 the surf shack was packed since most computer users still needed dial-up access -- super expensive and phone jacks were hard to find.

"Athens 2004 was all about personal (and often really annoying) ring tones because everyone and their dog had a cell now.

"Turin 2006 was all electronics all the time -- everyone had a laptop, multiple cellphones, digital camera, DVD player, etc.

"Beijing 2008 saw everyone walking around talking to laptops as they Skyped home about the craziness of China. Smart phones had everyone so connected."

And now, tech-savvy athletes are adding auto replies to their e-mails, advising that they won't be answering until March.

Facebook statuses are changed to indicate: "Gone to the Olympics. Will not be updating until afterward."

ALISON_KORN@HOTMAIL.COM

POLL