Olympic athletes allowed to twitter

Despite the International Olympic Committee’s confusion about blogs and journalism, it appears that Olympic athletes will be allowed much greater freedom to tweet from the games than previously thought. -db

February 9, 2010
By Arthur Bright

Rejoice, all ye Olympian fans, the International Olympic Committee (“IOC”) has said that its athletes can use Twitter!

Apparently there’s been some confusion among Olympic athletes as to whether they were allowed to “tweet,” as the kids call it. Wired notes that Lindsey Vonn, US Olympic skier, told her some-35,000 Twitter followers that she wouldn’t be allowed to post during the Olympics proper, due to the IOC’s blogging rules. (Judging by Vonn’s Facebook page, to which her website redirects, that might have been hard for her; she seems to be a rather prolific poster.)

Well, the IOC has since itself tweeted that Twittering (Tweeting?) is an acceptable activity for athletes, “as long as it is about your own personal experience at the Games.”

The IOC tweet includes a link to the IOC Blogging Guidelines (pdf). Taking the IOC at its “tweet,” apparently so long as the athletes follow the rules in this document, they’ll be okay.

The rules are still pretty strict, of course. Some of the rules are obvious—no advertising, no exclusivity, no using the word “Olympic” in your website’s name. But also verboten are the use of any sound or video of the Games, and photos are only acceptable where the athlete is pictured and not involved in any “sporting action” or official ceremonies, including medal presentations. And athletes can’t use the Olympic symbol on their blogs. (This strikes me as problematic in combination with the photos rule. Does the athlete need to photoshop out any logos present before they post a photo?)

Of course, there are some logical flaws in the rules too. The Guidelines specifically distinguish “blogs” from “journalism,” which strikes me as more than a bit odd. Bob Condron, the Director of Media Services for the US Olympic Committee, told Wired that the blogging athlete “can’t act as a journalist” if she’s not one. “You need to do things in a first person way.”

Since when are journalists unable to report in a first-person fashion? Sure, a great deal of the news is presented in print and on TV in a third-person narrative, with the reporter trying to stay out of sight as much as possible. But plenty of journalists use a first-person presentation to tell a story. And “blogs” are really just a medium, whereas journalism is more a method of writing. There’s nothing inherently contradictory about a “journalistic blog.” But it’s unclear if the IOC would be able to grasp that.

Still, these sorts of borderline issues aren’t apt to come up, considering that your average Olympic twitter is probably more focused on honing their athletic prowess than their journalistic chops. The gist of the IOC rules is that if an athlete wants to write 140 characters about their experiences at the games, she can. So rejoice, Lindsey Vonn, you’re good to go.

Arthur Bright is a third-year law student at the Boston University School of Law and a former CMLP Legal Intern.

Copyright 2010 Citizen Media Law Project