Dangers of joining the sporting Twitterati

January 6, 2010

New Zealand All Blacks coach Graham Henry played the part of the befuddled old fogey bemused by modern life and confused by new technology with a certain wry amusement towards the end of his team’s European tour late last year.

Neemia Tialata and Cory Janes revealed on Twitter they had been left out of the team to play England 24 hours before Henry formally announced the side.

“I had to find out what Twitter was,” Henry said. “I thought it was a new guy playing five-eighth for England.”

Tialata has 1,513 followers, who discovered their man had been supplanted by Owen Franks at tighthead prop a day before the media were informed. Serena Williams possesses 1,513,847, who were invited to help her with a recipe shortly before Xmas.

The disparity is a fair reflection of the respective standings of Tialata and Williams in the sporting community, although the more important difference between the pair is the gulf between team and individual sports.

Athletes in team sports are now carefully coached to say little and reveal less at the media conferences which are now a part of life in professional sport. They certainly would not dream of telling a reporter if they had been selected or not in advance of the official announcement.

All of which makes a string of indiscretions this year via Twitter the more gratifying for those forced to endure the string of platitudes masquerading as considered answers at compulsory media conferences.

In July Australia opening batsman Phillip Hughes confirmed what everybody had already guessed but not yet been told when he was quoted as saying on his Twitter feed that he had been dropped for the third test against England.

The media leaped with delight on Hughes’s indiscretion which gave them an excellent early story after heavy rain had delayed the start of play. Hughes’s manager Neil D’Costa was forced to take responsibility.

“I look after Twitter for him,” D’Costa said. “Unfortunately I’m the fool.”

Cricket Australia’s Philip Pope then further fueled the controversy when he said the team had not been decided and would not be decided until the covers came off the pitch. “As a young player he will be reminded that he should not be revealing details until the team has been officially announced,” Pope said.

More embarrassing and potentially more dangerous tweets were posted by last year by England cricketer Tim Bresnan and England striker Darren Bent. Bresnan was reprimanded by national team director Andy Flower after leaving a foul-mouthed message on his Twitter page when another user doctored an image of the all-rounder to make him look overweight.

Bent used similar language to express his frustration with Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy over his transfer to Sunderland.

Serena Williams, whose tweets, website, blogs and news conferences are an unstoppable stream of primarily low-grade information will twitter on regardless. Those engaged in team sports look certain to find that releasing unauthorised information or offensive comment via Twitter will become another item on the banned list. The media will in turn be forced to settle down after their brief flurry of excitement and endure once more the tedious banalities of the 21st century athlete.

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