It comes as no surprise that yet another high profile sportsman finds himself in hot water over comments made on social media’s Twitter. On this occasion it is Australian cricketer David Warner who foolishly used the medium to abuse cricket journalists Robert Craddock and Malcolm Conn. Obviously he was never given the sage advice, ‘never take on a man armed with a pen.’
There is no doubt that only Warner can be blamed for his comments as he was the one it appears who wrote them and sent them into the twitter-sphere, but are top athletes really to blame?
This may seem a strange question to ask, but when Pat Howard the head of High Performance at Cricket Australia is quoted as saying “Twitter is part of the modern age and we encourage players and even staff at times to engage with fans in a positive way.” It raises a concerning point. For the record Howard went on to say “But with that comes responsibility and that’s obviously a very difficult and delicate balance. It’s part of the learning process. I’d expect our cricketers to be better than that and our standards are higher than that.”
More and more we are seeing sporting organisations that used to engage heavily with the public resort to relying in Twitter and Facebook as their major means of communication. That is always going to be fraught with danger. We have seen it backfire in football, basketball, rugby union and now cricket. The big question is do these errors of judgement by players, whose skills are not writing or communication, undo the reasonable attempts made to promote the game through these outlets? Many would say that they do.
To be honest these outbursts should not come as a surprise. The sporting media has become so sanitised in the past five years it is inevitable that every now and again a player is going to let off steam. Coaches and players are not allowed to say what they really think after a game, for fear of being fined for bringing the game into disrepute. In some instances the players have to be careful even talking to media representatives without the OK from the club they play for even in a social situation. The restrictions on players and talking to the press, and press access to players no longer being as open as it used to be has undoubtedly exacerbated the situation.
So bad are some of the ‘Social Media Policies’ at some of the lower levels of sport that semi professional and amateur clubs are being gagged as well. Here are two clauses that reflect that, ‘ Never comment on rumours, do not deny or confirm them or speculate about rumours in Social Media Channels,’ and ‘Always use social media to add value and promote (the said sport) in a positive way.’ On the surface these may look reasonable, but if a rumour is doing the rounds and is incorrect and potentially damaging to a club, who has the right to stop them putting the record straight? Similarly, most people engaged in a sport want to promote the game and see it thrive, but there are occasions where for the good of the game they must speak out and tell the truth if something is bad or wrong. Based on this rule, Pat Howard would be in trouble for criticising David Warner for his comments!
The world is not, never has been, and never will be all things sweet and nice as some of the dictator-like modern-day administrators want us to believe. Sport has always been about passion rivalries and differences of opinion. What has happened to freedom of speech, freedom of opinion, and open discussion on issues? Why are we trying to stop these?
There is no doubt that most sports administrators need to review their media policies. Post match honesty should be allowed and not punished. The currently cliche ridden interviews have no appeal to the average fan. There also should be less emphasis put on social media and more on real media relations. If players were allowed more freedom to say what they think and feel and are allowed to engage with the media more freely the belief is that they are less likely to engage in sudden frustration fuelled tweets that embarrass them and their game. Will things change? Will the iron fists of power ease their grip? Probably not in the foreseeable future.