Canadian gymnast regrets “weird” restrictions to athlete blogging at Olympics

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has given the green light to athlete blogging at the Beijing games.

Canadian rhythmic gymnast Alexandra Orlando performs a routine.

But the Committee is off the mark in restricting what can be posted to the blogs, a Canadian Olympian says.

In terms of social media, the Beijing Olympics actually sets a record of sorts.

It’s the first time ever that the IOC has approved athlete blogging at the games – in a bid to keep the event up to date with new media.

But the approval comes with “guidelines” that limit what content can be posted to blogs, and banned items include pictures or videos of Olympic events or venues for the duration of the games.

“That’s kind of weird to me,” says Alexandra Orlando, a rhythmic gymnast competing with Canada’s team. “I don’t know what the reason is behind it.”

Orlando believes blogging is a great way to celebrate the Olympics.

The Toronto-born political science student recently started a blog, prompted by media interested in getting an athlete’s perspective on the games.

Orlando’s blog is featured on both the CBC’s Olympic Web site and another site hosted by PC maker Lenovo that features blogs from Olympians around the world.

“I’m having a lot of fun with it,” Orlando says. “It’s really nice to get stuff off my chest and my friends and family can keep up with what I’m doing.”

Blogs give athletes an opportunity to keep in touch with family and friends without sending out countless e-mails, she says. They also offer athletes the opportunity to share their personalities with fans, creating a more personal connection.

Many athletes attending Beijing already have a blog or Internet presence, the IOC says in a statement. The guidelines approved for the games recognize “the realities of today’s media and allow athletes to share their experience with the fans back home and across the world.”

But athletes can’t share pictures or video of the Games, or include interviews with other athletes in their blogs.

Those rules prove that the IOC doesn’t yet grasp the nature of social media, say blogging advocates.

“Trying to control social media or to block people from capturing their views is pathetic,” says Nir Ofir, a social media entrepreneur based in Israel. “It can not be done.”

Ofir has been creating Israel’s well-patronized social media sites for the past decade.

Last June he developed – an online video and live broadcasting portal.

The Beijing Olympics will be the first games where more people get information from the Web than from TV, Ofir says. But he add that the blogging rules are overprotective,

“I would do the opposite. I would give every person coming to the game cameras and simple way to connect to the Web and share content. That would spread the word about the Olympics in away they can’t imagine.”

Such an approach was taken by Lenovo with their blog contributors.

The company has outfitted each blogger with a new laptop and a video camera to create blogging content. But with no video of the Olympics allowed on blogs, athletes will have to get creative in putting the equipment to use.

“It would be nice to have a little video blog every day,” Orlando says. “We can find ways to use it.”

Areas outside of the Olympics accredited zone offer an opportunity for some video clips, she adds. The camera has been used to show teammates having fun at training sessions, showing the athletes’ lighter sides. It will be uploaded to her blog soon.

“We’ve asked them to have fun with the portable video cameras and blogs outside of the competition,” says Alan White, global Web marketing director of Olympics at Lenovo. “We believe all these pieces show the athletes are real people and help to grow their fan base.”

Lenovo is featuring 100 bloggers from 25 countries and 26 different sports on their site. The project was started when the IOC sanctioned athlete blogging, kick-starting what the company considers “the first ever Web 2.0 games,” White says.

Roger’s Sportsnet Web site features the blog of Canadian Olympic kayaker Adam van Koeverden. The content has always been text-based contributions, says Pat Grier, managing editor of the site.

“It’s a bit disappointing,” he says. “We would’ve liked to see some content like that on Adam’s blog.”

Sportsnet also features athlete blogs from other professional sports. A couple of players on the Toronto Blue Jays keep regularly updated blogs, for example. It’s an effective way to connect with fans over the Internet.

“Athletes these days are so technically savvy, it’s easy for them to do,” Grier says. “They’re already carrying Blackberrys and sending text messages.”

Little editorial control is placed on the blogs, Grier says. There’s been no problem, so far, letting athletes write about what they like.

Sportsnet has been placing some online advertising on the blog pages too, but that will have to change this for van Koeverden’s blog during the Olympics.

Another IOC rule stipulates that no commercial reference be posted with blog content. Sportsnet will take down their ads to comply with this guideline.

“I know the IOC can be very draconian,” the editor says. “I don’t think we’ll be doing anything in violation of the agreement.”

Despite the IOC’s rules surrounding blogging at the Olympics, Orlando enjoys her new creative outlet. The winner of a record-breaking six gold medals at the 2006 Commonwealth Games finds blogging can be therapeutic.

“When I have the time and I feel like reflecting, I just pick up the computer and it comes out easily.”

Orlando will continue to keep her blog after the Games’ conclusion.

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