PtG Article 23.02.2007

Athletes are forbidden to update websites and blogs from Pan Am Games

When thousands of athletes from 42 countries meet at the Pan American Games in Brazil in July this year, athletes will be forbidden to update their blogs or websites during the competition. There will also be restrictions on broadcast of live images on the internet.

According to the Brazilian newspaper O Dia, all sports federations in Brazil have received an official letter signed by Carlos Arthur Nuzman, the president of the organising committee for Rio 2007. In the letter the federations are told that “no athlete and/or officer of the Brazilian delegation of the XV Pan American Games can act as a reporter, produce text or research for publishing purposes, or report periodically or daily for online-sites on the web during the games.

The rules apply to all athletes attending the Pan American Games, but in the host country of Brazil there has been widespread discussion of the ban. According to the website, a backlash against the rules is already being planned by activists who will launch blogs with the specific purpose of circumventing the restrictions.

Also athletes are complaining:

“I was not aware of the prohibition, and I confess my frustration. The blogs are a means for the athlete to keep in contact with people interested in the sport, and also with supporters,” swimmer Kaio Marcio says.

Blogs could be targets of ambush marketing

At issue for the organisers of the Pan American Games is the income from television stations that have been given exclusive rights to video and audio from the event and therefore do not want to see videos on athletes’ blogs.  But elsewhere other concerns are also emerging.

In Australia, the Australian Olympic Committee has already forbidden its athletes to maintain blogs during the Olympic Games in Beijing.

“Blogging would erode the sanctuary of the Olympic village and it could lead competitors to launch electronic missiles at other athletes,” Craig Phillips, secretary general of the Australian Olympic Committee told BBC News.

Phillips is also worried that non-Olympic sponsors might use blocks to hijack the games through so-called ambush marketing which is a marketing strategy where a competing brand connects itself with a major sporting event without paying sponsorship fees.

“We rely on our sponsors and we have to protect them,” Phillips said.

IOC discusses whether to allow blogs

For the IOC the blogging by athletes is also an issue of concern - particularly in connection with the Olympic Games in Beijing where freedom of speech is already a major topic.

According to the news agency AP,  a subgroup of the IOC’s press commission recently concluded that blogging by athletes would not violate Olympic rules provided that the athletes receive no payment, post their blogs as personal diaries and  do not use photos, video or audio obtained at the games.

But the IOC has not made any decision yet on what policy to adopt and is waiting for recommendations from national Olympic committees.

No live pictures on the Internet

Back at the Pan American Games, the organising committee has also decided that Internet media will not be allowed to present any story or news featuring audiovisual content of the competition. The ban applies to all types of Internet publications whether they belong to news organisations or individuals.

When FIFA tried to introduce limitations on Internet coverage of the World Cup in football last year there was a huge outcry from news organisations and eventually FIFA was persuaded to allow pictures on newspaper websites without time restrictions. In this case, there has not been any strong reactions from news media yet.

But as one Brazilian blogger points out time may have run out for bans like these:

“It is enough that one spectator buys a ticket and gets into the audience with a cell phone, while another can connect a cable channel line into a video capture board and, at the same time, hundreds of others send all of this to YouTube. Those rights’ owners, broadcasters, recording companies and all the entrepreneurs dealing with information need to rethink their business models.”