What have Joey Barton, Emmanuel Frimpong, Rio Ferdinand, Federico Macheda and Ryan Babel got in common?
Well, according to the F.A. and the Premier League they’ve all been very naughty boys. They’ve all made the fatal mistake of being slightly too open on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, and their openness has landed them in hot water. Engaging with fans and even opposing supporters is fine according to Premier League CEO Peter Scudamore, but sometimes players overstep the mark and make throw away comments that have the potential to offend. So, is social media dangerous in the wrong hands? Does the use of sites like Facebook and Twitter have any place in modern competitive sport?
The latest spat that prompted the Premier League to act was an incident involving the young Arsenal midfielder, Emmanuel Frimpong. After an online altercation with a supporter of rivals, Tottenham, he posted a comment that some people claimed was both offensive and racist.
Was that really the case, or was it merely taken out of context?
Well, according to the player it was made in jest and was simply a joke. The Premier League and F.A. thought differently however, and decided that the comment amounted to improper comment and brought the game into disrepute. Arsene Wenger is naturally furious, but then again when is he not?
What will concern other players is not that an individual has been held to account by speaking out of turn, but that the Premier League has decided that it’s time it laid down some ground rules about the use of social media in football. What it has proposed is seen by some players like Ferdinand as an infringement of their civil liberties, and a shackling of freedom of speech. Peter Scudamore naturally denies such suggestions, and argues that all the Premier league is doing is laying down some clear guidelines which will not only clarify the situation, but also prevent any further incidence of inappropriate behaviour. Speaking to the BBC Mr Scudamore commented:
“Social media is doing a good job of allowing fans to feel closer to the players. There is a more human side now to some of the players and the public can communicate more directly with them, [however] clearly it isn’t the same as texting your best mate or talking to someone. Sometimes there can be abusive comments, but generally the internet, online chat rooms, and the way people are communicating, is healthy.”
Some Clubs already have rules in place to govern what players are allowed to reveal on social media sites. It’s the same with other sports too. UK Athletics has very restrictive practices for athletes particularly during the Olympics. Never the less, the Premier League feels that it is necessary to clarify the situation and make players and Clubs aware of what is, and what is not acceptable. The Premier League has therefore offered advice to Clubs on the endorsement of brands, goods and services and also warned players not to reveal confidential information about team matters. The new guidelines also cover what disciplinary action the Football Association (FA) could take against players who make improper comments on social media.
So how will seasoned pros feel about the restrictions?
Will they accept the new ruling, or simply carry on tweeting as and when they feel like it? Well, if the reaction of Rio Ferdinand is anything to go by, then it’s clearly a case of keeping calm and carrying on. Ferdinand has no intention of stopping using Twitter and insists that he will continue to post messages. Speaking from United’s pre-season tour in Shanghai he told the BBC:
“Twitter is something that lets fans get a bit closer to you by letting them see you do everyday things – just giving them a glimpse of what you get up to. I treat it [Twitter] as fun. I don’t take it too seriously, to be honest.”