Due to a controversial Tweet sent just days before the Olympics, Greek triple jump champion, Voula Papachristou, was expelled from her Olympic team
Despite the evolution of the Olympic Games over the years, it seems that the Hellenic Olympic Committee intends to keep it old school by preserving the integrity and value that the Games represent, even if it means expelling one of their top athletes.
Greece’s triple jump champion, Voula Papachristou, has been barred from the London Olympics due to this incredibly callous tweet that drew comparison to disease and her African compatriots: “with so many Africans in Greece, at least the West Nile mosquitoes will be eating food from their own home.”
Many have analyzed the meaning of her message and why it took her two days to issue an apology, but the bigger issue seems to be how casualties come to be through the power that social media produces. Four years of training have been washed away due to a few seconds of irresponsible typing into her smart phone.
It has been tough to grasp for Papachristou, who now will watch her fellow Greek Olympians walk out during the Opening Ceremonies while she can only watch as a fan.
“I have not slept at all and to be honest I am still trying to come to terms with what has happened,” she told Reuters. “I am trying to stay calm otherwise I would lose control. I am thankful to my coach and family and so many other people who have stuck by me… After so many years of hurt and sacrifices to try and get to my first Olympics I am very bitter and upset. But what has upset me the most is the excessive reaction and speed of the disciplinary decision.”
Did the excitement of participating in London 2012 get the best of Papachristou?
“It’s the same as violating fair play,” Isidoros Kouvelos, head of Greece’s Olympic mission, told Greece’s private Skai TV. “We are not here just to get medals, but to promote the Olympic ideals, to show our character.”
He added that the Hellenic Olympic Committee did not contact Papachristou before or after issuing the statement that announced her removal her from the Olympic squad. Kouvelos’ decision to not consult Papachristou acts in direct opposition to the pervasiveness of athlete engagement over the last few years. The conservative nature of the Greek Olympic mission is certainly visible after the unilateral move to expel a national champion. Certainly her athletic performance and value to the country afforded her a right to a defense.
What is interesting is that the boom of popularity of the Olympics has coincided with the development of the Games as a global brand and has caused an accelerated race to capture victory, sometimes at any cost. The current era of Olympic Games has become a beast of an athletic contest: more countries are represented, training schedules have gotten increasingly regimented, incidents of doping are becoming more widespread and perhaps most importantly, technology has provided athletes with the opportunities to develop themselves as unique brands through self-expression.
The strong action by Greece’s Olympic mission shows the heavy influence social media has in society
Our current social media environment has made the four years since the 2008 Beijing Games seem like the evolution of life from the K-T boundary to the appearance of primates. Athletes can now interact with fans from practically any location on Earth. Most Tweets are inconsequential and often times overlooked, but at times interaction without discretion or careful consideration can lead to harsh consequences. In the case of Papachristou, the same discipline used in her physical and mental preparation for the Games should have be exercised in the social media arena, if she knew her Olympic committee’s policy on social media beforehand.
With that being said, there seems to be a bigger issue at hand: who controls freedom of speech on the global stage? How much interpretation of policy should the national delegations be permitted? Is there a ‘checks and balances’ system? Whether you agree or disagree with the decision to ban Papachristou from the Games, you cannot ignore the fact that this will by no means be an isolated incident until the grey areas of global Olympic social media regulation are refined and expanded to all delegations. Hopefully the IOC takes a proactive stance and develops a strict adherent policy that doesn’t impinge on beneficial fan outreach of Olympians in the future.
(Photos by telegraph.co.uk)