Thursday, August 19, 2004


Olympic Committee bans web speech for athletes

I must confess that I am less than enchanted by the Olympics. I don't mean the athletes, of course. But the politics, the corruption, the drug-testing and the corporate sleaze make the Olympics look like college football played behind barbed wire.

I would wring my hands and say, "Something must be done." But short of the Second Coming, I don't see any nation or group having sufficient motive to change the situation.

If there were such a group, it would be the athletes themselves. But most of them are very young, many of them are politically unsophisticated, and the rigors of training leave little time for battling Goliath. And besides—as in college football—it's the athletes themselves who are ultimately corrupted.

So today the AP reports yet another story of the ways of the International Olympic Committee (IOC)—this time in the matter of free speech and a free press.

The International Olympic Committee is barring competitors, as well as coaches, support personnel and other officials, from writing firsthand accounts for news and other Web sites.

An exception is if an athlete has a personal Web site that they did not set up specifically for the Games.

The IOC's rationale for the restrictions is that athletes and their coaches should not serve as journalists - and that the interests of broadcast rightsholders and accredited media come first. [emphasis added]

Pretty clear where athletics fits into all of this, isn't it?

If I understand this correctly—if I already have a blog before arriving at the Olympics, I may continue to blog. But if I don't already have a blog, it's too late to start one now—I may only speak in the service of the corporate media.

Participants in the games may respond to written questions from reporters or participate in online chat sessions - akin to a face-to-face or telephone interview - but they may not post journals or online diaries, blogs in Internet parlance, until the Games end Aug. 29.

To protect lucrative broadcast contracts, athletes and other participants are also prohibited from posting any video, audio or still photos they take themselves, even after the games, unless they get permission ahead of time. (Photos taken by accredited journalists are allowed on the personal sites.)

Duke University's Duke Magazine for alumni was planning to post two athlete diaries on their site. Robert Bliwise, the editor, is quoted as saying,

This is unfathomable to me. I don't understand what the International Olympic Committee might be concerned about. It's a way to engage a wide audience with reporting from the field and therefore generate excitement and interest in the games.

What the IOC is worried about, Robert, is money. And it's unfathomable to me that that is unfathomable to you.

[A]n IOC official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said third-party sites like Duke's are covered by the restrictions.

And what if an athlete should get itchy fingers and begin to blog?

The Olympic guidelines threaten to yank credentials from athletes who are in violation as well as to impose other sanctions or take legal action for any monetary damages.

But the official said the IOC has yet to take any action against an athlete.

You can bet that if they do take any action, it will be after the games have ended. Less bad press that way.

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