Twitter Comment Costs Greek Athlete Spot in Olympics

July 25, 2012 /
By Mary Pilon


LONDON — A triple jump athlete was removed from Greece’s Olympic team Wednesday for posting a comment on Twitter that was disparaging of African immigrants in Greece.

Paraskevi Papahristou, 23, who is known as Voula, was not considered a medal contender in the triple jump, which is scheduled to start Aug. 3. The comment, posted in Greek on July 22, made a reference to Africans in Greece and West Nile virus and was retweeted over 100 times, immediately drawing angry reactions.

When it was announced Wednesday that she had been kicked off the team, she posted an apology on her Facebook page.

“I would like to express my heartfelt apologies for the unfortunate and tasteless joke I published on my personal Twitter account,” she said. “I am very sorry and ashamed for the negative responses I triggered, since I never wanted to offend anyone, or to encroach human rights.”

Papahristou competed in the European championships this year in Helsinki but did not advance to the finals, finishing 11th. She finished eighth at the I.A.A.F. world championships in Daegu last year and 15th at the world championships, held in Berlin in 2009. She had also competed in the long jump.

Within minutes of posting her apology on her Facebook page, hundreds of her fans replied, some in support of her comments, others disappointed with her statements.

Her disqualification is just another challenge facing the Greek Olympic team, which has struggled with its budget as the country copes with financial disaster. Greece has competed in every Summer Games since the modern games began, in 1896. Greece’s Hrysopiyi Devetzi won a silver medal at the 2004 Athens Games in the event and a bronze medal in Beijing in 2008.

Her expulsion underscores the tension surrounding the growing number of athletes using social media platforms. Some organizing committees, agents and coaches discourage athletes’ use of social media in the days leading up to the Games. Some, including the United States Olympic Committee, encourage social media use, but have incorporated use guidelines and training into their regular preparation sessions for athletes.

The International Olympic Committee said in its social media guidelines that it encourages use of social media during the Olympic Games and that “postings, blogs and tweets should at all times conform to the Olympic spirit and fundamental principles of Olympism as contained in the Olympic Charter, be dignified and in good taste, and not contain vulgar or obscene words or images.”

The guidelines added that athletes “can be held personally liable for any commentary and/or material deemed to be defamatory, obscene or proprietary.”

Calls to a spokesman for the Greek national organizing committee were not returned.

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