The Opening Ceremonies went off without a hitch. Security concerns have been allayed thus far. The weather hasn’t been too bad. For Americans, we’ve had a few sub-par performances in the pool and on the gymnastics apparatuses, but so far, so good.
Unless the issue is how this so-called “First Social Games” is going. The social media events have not gone quite like fans, competitors, ormembers had thought it would − all for different reasons. Indeed, the biggest security dust-up has to do not with fears of terrorists, but fears of unwanted mention of sponsors by athletes and/or their supporters. Is the IOC fairly trying to protect the Olympic ‘brand’ or are its members greedily limiting expression through social media? And does anybody else really care?
That last question is not meant to be so much an antagonism toward the IOC as a heads-up to its members that the social-media cat might already have its head out of the bag.
The IOC wanted to market the games in London as the ‘first social games’ in which fans, participants, and even the committee itself were going to participate in social networks. But what was going to be allowed to be shared turned out to be a bit trickier than even the 400 meter medley: Fans could post any photos or text they wanted, but no video. And any focus on non-Olympics sponsors could be challenged. Athletes had the same limits, but the imposition against their own sponsors was especially Draconian. ‘Rule 40‘ of the IOC means any athlete who uses images, videos, or social media that presents their sponsors and supports − those who are not sponsors of the IOC and the Games themselves − would be sanctioned. More Orwellian still, Rule 40 allows the IOC to disqualify any athletes the IOC deems has broken ‘Rule 40’.
Leave it to the Americans to lead the revolt against the rule. Their complaint is that their own sponsors are who made their participation in the Olympics possible, and simply ignoring them while in London jeopardizes future support from those sponsors. With golden irony, #Rule40 has become a hot hashtag on Twitter, as fans around the world snigger at the IOC’s self-destructive policies.
Here is an excellent report on Rule 40, its defense from an IOC spokesman, and how analysts at The Wall Street Journal question the IOC’s ability to comprehend social media.
So, does anybody care? The IOC’s efforts to protect its sponsors of the Games writ large should in no way be demonized. That relationship is critical to the success of the Games. But the IOC certainly comes off as the Grandpa Simpson of this debate: prattling on about issues that the rest of the family sees as, at best, irrelevant. If athletes lose their own sponsors (something that seems terribly unlikely) then the level of competition could slip over the next generations, making IOC protection of its own sponsors anachronistic if no one watches.
But the striking clue that the IOC really doesn’t know what it’s doing on this issue can be found in the fact that it has appointed a grand total of two people to keep an eye on its social-media outreach and on the tweets, photos, and posts of the participants. They were likely run over by data and left for dead before David Beckham delivered the torch by speedboat. Moreover, the IOC sees social media as a zero-sum game: If you mention your sponsor, my sponsor loses − if you post a video of your team mate’s celebration, no one will watch NBC’s coverage. Difficult to see howand the US Track and Field Team will cut into Coke sales. And from 2008.
So let’s say the IOC is not wrong, but benightedly naive. As Brian Mossop puts it at Wired.com, “The Olympics Just Don’t Get Social Media”. Let the old guard at the IOC tilt at its windmills while it can. By 2016 too many people, including sponsors, will understand the ongoing conversation that social media engenders and Rule 40 will look as quaint as the Olympic tennis outfits from the first London Olympics of 1908.