Australian sport federations and social media policies
I’ve been participating in an e-mail conversation with two of my supervisors about the institutional roles related to social media policy in response to the story about country Victorian football players getting suspended as a result of things they said on Facebook. Different groups have different policies. Sometimes, what these policies are feel unclear and the media rarely quotes or mentions specific policy regarding how athletes are governed by their leagues and federations in terms of social media usage. One of my points was that we should see if we couldn’t get our hands on some of these policies and see how they specifically address incidents like the ones referenced in that article. There seem to be some problem areas where policies stand now. If we could get our hands on existing policies, maybe we can use those policies as a starting point to offer some sort of training to sport organizations to help them better refine those policies.
The first problem of course is that we don’t exactly have copies of these policies. To address this problem a bit, I called up a few organizations and asked them about their policies, etc. This is a summary by organization regarding policies. (And many thanks to the people who answered. Calls out of the blue from Australian PhD students with American accents asking about institutional policies probably sounds a little bit questionable… but everyone I talked to was beyond nice.) With my notes, please realize that the conversations I had probably lasted no more than five minutes.
- Athletics Australia: No specific policy regarding social media. They do it through media training. Not restrictive in their policies. They just ask them to be aware of what they are doing.
- Badminton Australia: No policies. Olympic policies they have to follow. They have Facebook and not Twitter. Will have an athlete who maintains Facebook and the website follow up for me with more information.
- Australian Baseball Federation: No policies on social media usage. Probably should. No day to day athletes so a bit less need for it at the moment. ABL teams are not focused on social media yet but separate entity so the federation is not involved in setting their policies.
- Australian Baseball League: There is an intention to do create policy and create some sort of training for players. The policy will cover things such as acceptable behavior on sites like Twitter and Facebook. These policies should not differ much from how players should talk to the media as both are open forums. Player contracts have clauses regarding bringing the game into disrepute so if a player did something online that would be a problem, they could face consequences based on that clause.
- Basketball Australia: There is no separate national team policy regarding social media usage. There are advisory guidelines regarding behavior that were written based on the guidelines set by the Australian Olympic Committee. Beyond these, all athletes are subject to a player agreement that includes a code of conduct. The code of conduct includes topics such as endorsements, talking about your team mates, talking about referees and other competitors. Athletes cannot say things that contradict the positions of the organization. For the most part, in terms of competitions, athletes are only really allowed to talk about their own experiences. None of this explicitly covers the Internet but what they do online does apply. (The level of policing of athlete activities online is low because they do not have the personnel to dedicate to that.) The code of conduct means that if an athlete for Basketball Australia had said something like Stephanie Rice did, she would be subject to the code of conduct and consequences outlined there would apply. Basketball Australia provides support for state organizations on this topic should they want it. They do not force them to implement these policies as state organizations are independent entitites.
- Diving Australia: Kids have been advised about social media. Can use social media but not during dives and the competitions. (They will get back to me with more information.)
- Bowls Australia Inc: There is an athlete agreement for public online and offline. Does mention online. May see about getting me a copy of that athlete code of conduct.
- Equestrian Australia: No specific social media policy regarding members. Comprehensive codes of conduct so things like criticizing competitors and judging would be covered in both. Same for sportsman like behavior. Bad social media usage hasn’t been an issue. You can’t use mobile phones during competitions. (Athletes do use them to get in touch with people to help them change horses, move from place to place, get a hold of people. That’s allow.) Most of the time they just don’t have time. Horse people are really on Facebook. Some recent stuff has been appearing on Twitter. They’ve started venturing onto YouTube and Twittering. Athletes are doing that but not when they are competing. Hamish and Dave.
- Golf Australia: No formal policy. Professional tours are developing policies. Players can tweet during rounds. Not really an issue that Golf Australia has had to face during their opens. A female American player was listening to her iPod. issue because of a courtesy to fellow players. They thought it was an issue. No formal policy. When over seas, it is a less of an issue and they are allowed to do that as they control themselves. (Americans appear to be more likely to tweet during rounds than other nationalities.)
It looks like most of the organizations I was able to get a hold of do not have formal policies. (And I just wasn’t pressing to get copies of athlete codes of conduct.) This is interesting but not unexpected. Back to my e-mail chain, the question came up of why not? I don’t know but I’d speculate that they do not have them for the following reasons:
- Athletes in their federations are pretty well behaved and use social media in a non-offensive manner. They have not drawn unwanted media attention or attention from sister federations in other countries. Given that, they do not feel a pressing need to develop social media specific policies.
- Athlete behavior is viewed as already being covered by codes of conduct. You cannot criticize competitors and judges/umpires/referees. It doesn’t need to be stated that if you cannot do that on the grounds or in the media that you shouldn’t do this online.
- Federations do not see how drawing attention to and encouraging social media engagement by their athletes with the wider community would help them meet institutional objectives. This could/is probably coupled with federations having contracts with some of their athletes regarding media appearances and they do not want to spend those appearances on social media. They’d rather try to leverage athlete media commitments to help them get main stream media attention.
All of these reasons are perfectly valid to a degree. If they aren’t going to create specific policies, it might be worth trying to do some training with athletes to make sure they understand that codes of conduct apply to social media engagement, and encourage athletes to engage if they have the time and inclination in order to encourage greater participation in the sport/get additional media attention. Beyond that, it could help put their organization in a position where they can be proactive in case a social media related story involving their athletes.