It doesn’t need to be said to every Team member because very many people are absolutely professional in what they write and say. However, I don’t want to single anyone out. The reasons for this will become apparent.
I have been contacted by two separate companies regarding potential sponsorship for some GB Team members. Both companies asked for my views, as Chair of BMC Competitions Committee, as they had seen some remarks on the Team members’ Facebook sites that they regarded as inappropriate.
I also feel it is inappropriate for me to raise this issue with the Team members concerned personally, as I do not know them and we do not yet have any policy on this sort of issue.
So this letter is a gentle reminder to everyone on the Team about who you are, what you represent and what responsibilities that brings with it, plus a little in the way of basic guidance.
As a member of Team GB you need to become aware that your position changes.
Younger people will look up to you as a role model. You will also be seen as an ambassador for your sport. What you do, say and write will be looked at more closely, and more critically, than it would have been had you not become a GB Team member.
People generally will be interested in your results and as you become more successful they will become interested in you, what you do and say and they may start to follow you on the internet through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. They will interpret, and may even misinterpret, what you say in ways that you might not have anticipated. Additionally, things that you may have written in the past may also be trawled up in Google searches.
For instance, it is not hard to find information about some people with a few clicks. Sometimes one might, for example, find someone's sexual preference, religion and what they've been up to at weekends.
This is fine when genuine friends see it, but what about teachers, current or prospective employers, managers, coaches or potential sponsors?
What about those who call in sick to work/school/team training and end up going to a party or concert? Think how might that look to others such as potential sponsors or employers?
The combination of your work/school life and your social life can come crashing together quite quickly.
So, it’s worthwhile to think about cleaning out your social networking accounts or changing your privacy settings when you become a Team member, or before sending in an application for a new job or asking for a kit/clothing/shoe sponsor.
In looking to promote yourself as a climber, using Facebook or Twitter is a good idea. But you also need to be aware that you represent Team GB, and your sport, as well as yourself and while we currently have no formal guidelines in this area some common sense can be exercised. Otherwise we’ll continue hearing stories - ‘PR shockers’ of players and competitors embarrassing their sport, their team and of course, themselves.
Some Common Sense advice
It’s not a good idea to post or tweet about your manager, your coach, your teammates, any sponsors, the BMC or MCofS. If you want to ruin your reputation with careless tweets or Facebook status updates, inappropriate pictures and so on, that’s your choice. But don’t drag anyone else down with you.
Generally, it is better, and safer, to focus on yourself and what’s happening in your climbing career.... This is, after all, what people are really interested in.
As a Team GB member, you are naturally going to draw friends/followers to your pages. Sponsors see this as being advantageous. But posting anything inappropriate would jeopardize any potential sponsorship opportunities.
For instance, accidentally sending an incriminating direct message as a public tweet or status update has different consequences if you are a Team member. Most team members have 700 or more friends/followers, and many more fans besides. So here is a bit of common sense advice…
- Take the little bit of time to get to know, and be comfortable with, Twitter/Facebook and the privacy settings on your computer and/or your smartphone.
- Make sure the information about yourself is in no way incriminating or detrimental to yourself or anyone else. It must not be in anyway sexist/ fascist/racist, discriminatory, etc.
- Take time to consider the content of any posting. For instance, it is not necessary, or appropriate, to have swear words in public posts and status updates if you are a Team member.
- Try to think whether what you have written, or said, might be interpreted as offensive or inappropriate in anyway by someone else. What might a potential sponsor think of it?
- If you are unsure about a posting then it may be worth waiting a while before posting it, or perhaps asking for advice from someone you can trust to give you a reasonable and honest opinion.
To help everyone in this area the BMC’s Child Safeguarding Group is in the process of drawing up guidelines on the use of Facebook and Twitter that will be part of a larger Social Media policy.
However, things take time so while we wait please use your common sense when using sites like Facebook and Twitter. Don’t spoil your own, or the Team’s, opportunities by thoughtless or careless remarks.
Finally, to see how bad things can really get, read the examples of bad postings below. Reflect on them and learn the lessons they offer.
Examples to learn from
If you follow any major sport, you may have heard of at least one incident of a player using Twitter or Facebook to write or say something he/she shouldn’t have. This can have horrible consequences, and the people involved often close their Twitter or Facebook account to avoid any further embarrassment.
Here is a small sample of examples for everyone to take note of. Learn the lessons from these errors of judgment and, for the sake of our Team, try not to make any like them.
- Australian Olympic swimmer Stephanie Rice lost her marketing deal with Jaguar cars after using the word "f**gots" on Twitter. Rice Tweeted "Suck on that f**gots!" after Australia's rugby team beat South Africa.
She later Tweeted: ""Okay so maybe I got a bit too excited before!! But I love seeing Australians do well". And then, even later (undoubtedly after some kind of intervention): "I did not mean to cause offence and I apologise. I have deleted it from the site."
However, it was too late for Jaguar, which took back their car and their sponsorship.
- Max McKee, a Clyde FC U-19 player, was suspended over a comment made on his Twitter page. A message stated: "Somebody needs to hurry up and shoot Neil Lennon #JustSaying."
The Club responded: "Clyde Football Club has this evening terminated with immediate effect, the contract of U-19 player Max McKee following the player’s comment regarding Neil Lennon on a social networking site.
"Max has apologised profusely for his words and deeply regrets the distress that his action has caused. Clyde FC equally regrets the offensive remarks by the player and have contacted Celtic FC to apologise for this matter."
- This news came only a day after a young Berwick Rangers footballer was sacked for comments he made on Twitter about the Celtic manager.
Kieran Bowell, who was the captain of the club’s U-17s, tweeted: "Wish that parcel bomb f****** killed neil lennon, the little ****." The club terminated the 16-year-old’s contract hours after the post emerged.
- In Ice Hockey, the Phoenix Coyotes’ Paul Bissonnette tweeted a disparaging remark about a Russian player – using the word ‘communist’ – and his very popular account was removed less than an hour later
- In Baseball the San Francisco Giants’ Brian Wilson tweeted about ‘overaggressive males’ while out clubbing in Arizona. A bit of a whiny remark, but not really too bad. Nevertheless, the reactions were so strong that @BrianWilson38 has left Twitter.
- In Basketball the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Kevin Love tweeted that his coach had been fired before it was officially announced. He was lucky; his team’s reaction was only to create some rules for his tweets
And the list keeps growing by the day. Don’t add to it by writing, tweeting, or saying throw away comments that you might regret later.
As we go forward, and we aim for the Olympics, there will be even more pressure. Potential Team sponsors will not want to be associated with inappropriate remarks or negative PR that might follow from such remarks. So, if a double gold winning Australian Olympic swimmer can get sacked from a massive sponsorship deal for one wrong tweet on Twitter I would hate to see the consequences of our team losing a potential sponsorship deal because of thoughtless or inappropriate comments by any individual Team member.