Season of the tweet

Governing bodies are naive if they try to control the huge social media snowball that’s starting to gather pace during this Olympic summer

Usain Bolt

On your marks, set… tweet! Not everyone likes Twitter, but there’s no doubt it’s going to be an integral part of this summer’s Olympics. In the same way no athletics fan worth their salt would watch the Games without the latest copy of Athletics Weekly at their side, if you want to soak up every story, statistic and snippet of speculation, you need to get micro-blogging right now.

The power of Twitter was shown at the Powerade Great City Games last month when Jess Ennis stormed to what appeared to be a 100m hurdles PB, only for Kelly Sotherton to spoil the celebrations with a tweet that pointed out the race was missing a hurdle. Spectators, offcials, journalists and fellow athletes were busy congratulating Ennis until AW showed her coach, Toni Minichiello, Sotherton’s tweet. Cheers turned to tears and the story dominated the following day’s sports pages.

Increasingly, no meeting feels complete unless you’re watching it with a phone, tablet or laptop at your side. Sotherton is the queen of the track and field twittersphere, but it’s also given a platform to hitherto unknown athletics anoraks such as ‘lsabre’ and ‘Trackside 2012’, not to mention AW’s own ‘Statman Jon’, on which they can unleash killer stats and instant results.

We even ran an interview last month with the mystery twitterer Charles van Comedy, the parody alter-ego of UKA’s head coach. Of course the real Van Commenee once famously said Twitter was for “people with too much time on their hands, attention seekers and clowns”. But today every elite athlete has an account where they can talk directly to their fans with athletes such as Usain Bolt, Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah having huge followings.

Phillips Idowu even went as far as announcing his withdrawal from the 2010 Commonwealths and 2011 European Team Championships on Twitter. All this combined has led the International Olympic Committee to issue ‘social media guidelines’ ahead of the Games.

The IOC “actively encourages and supports athletes to take part in social media”, but then goes on to list various restrictions, particularly for volunteers. Not only is it a feeble and futile attempt to control the flow of information relating to the Games, but it is also self-defeating.

The IOC and LOCOG are missing a big trick if they try to sprinkle warm water on the social media snowball that’s sure to build during the Games. Modern athletes want to run, jump, throw and tweet, which means the adventure of every Olympian will be shared like never before.

» Follow Athletics Weekly’s tweets this summer, while AW’s editor also tweets @Jason_AW

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