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On your blogs, get set, go! Athletes and the new media

Mick O'Regan: Hello, and welcome to The Sports Factor.

This week's show continues our discussion about the significance of political protest at the
Olympic Games.

Last week it was the idea of athletes joining the solidarity campaign Team Darfur, which is focused
on the humanitarian crisis in the Sudan. This week, is whether that idea for example could be
expressed in an online blog, written from the athletes' village in Beijing

Recently the International Olympic Committee issued guidelines on blogging, and they've said Yes,
Olympians can now get online and tell the world what it's like to represent your country at the

But it's not quite open slather. As Australia's Kevan Gosper, an IOC Vice President and
importantly, the Chair of the Committee's Press Commission, indicated in an interview last

Kevan Gosper: I've talked with Jacques Rogge about it privately and I'm quite sure it'll go
through, because he's all for engaging young people. But there were some hiccups; some of the
national Olympic committees including our own National Olympic Committee were concerned that if
athletes had a free run on blogging, they could cut across the protection constraints that exist
for broadcasters who pay us a lot of money for broadcasting rights, and journalists themselves.

Andy Miah: The Olympic Charter has for many years indicated that athletes are not entitled to act
as journalists, and I think that the current stipulations don't extend that in any great form. But
nevertheless, we look at Olympic history over the last century and we identify a number of
instances whereby certain transgressions of those rules are celebrated in retrospect, and I think
that Beijing is ripe with those potentialities. I would envisage that given how strongly a number
of athletes feel about some of these issues that surround the Chinese Games, we can expect to see
Olympic history in the making that transcends in large part the sports that are taking place.

Mick O'Regan: British academic Andy Miah, who specialises in New Media and Bioethics and has
written extensively on the role of non-accredited media at the Olympics.

Of course the IOC sells the media rights to cover the Games for millions of dollars, and they're
not interested in athletes undermining the exclusivity of those deals by pretending they're

In fact the IOC guidelines make very clear that they can't do that, as Andy Miah explains.

Andy Miah: The guidelines are quite precise in that they don't speak about athletes specifically,
they speak about accredited people which encompasses athletes along with a number of other
accredited people. But what's fascinating to me about it is this stipulation that the IOC do not
regard blogging to be journalism, and that for me is quite a radical statement. I think in some
respects it mistakes the practice of blogging considerably. I would regard blogging as precisely a
form of journalism, but it's clearly a mechanism through which the IOC can negotiate the
exclusivity rights that journalists pay for when they pay for the games, effectively.

Mick O'Regan: So you can't get journalists on the cheap, if you like. So a magazine couldn't enter
into any sort of commercial deal with an athlete on the basis that she or he would be keeping a
diary of their Olympic experience, which then might later become a form of journalism?

Andy Miah: Well that's it, and I think that the big picture of this is the IOC are particularly
concerned about the exclusivity that's attached to paying for broadcasting and journalistic rights,
but also a concern about the exploitation of athletes that could arise as a result of them being
brought into blogs that are managed or maintained by third parties. And I think it's that in
particular that is concerning for the IOC, that they would not want athletes to jeopardise their
commitment to the Olympic movement unwillingly, or unwittingly, rather. So I think that the concern
about the protection of their intellectual property, but indirectly as well, the exploitation of
athletes is of great concern to them.

Mick O'Regan: Right. But is it more about money and rights do you think, or is it more about some
maintenance of what's called the Olympic spirit?

Andy Miah: Well I think one of the difficulties we have this summer in particular is the fact that
this is taking place around China, and it's clearly apparent that there are certain political
issues that surround the Beijing Olympics that are perhaps unique to it, at least in the recent
history of the Olympic Games. And so I think what's concerned the British Olympic Association and
has led to their previous advice to athletes, has been a concern that some political issues might
be particularly on the mind of journalists, and so it would be quite common perhaps for athletes to
be asked questions about the political situation in China. In some respects, that is distinct about
this particular Games, but it's also novel that athletes now find themselves in this position,
where any conversation they could have could be recorded and utilised for web purposes.

It could be uploaded quite easily to the internet, and I think that level of exposure is also
novel. In some respects this is really the first web 2.0 Olympics, in its fullest sense, whilst in
Torino there were discussions about this and there were already an emerging community of bloggers
who were there reporting aspects of the Games, this is the first summer Games where we've had
pervasive wi-fi in cities, the capacity to upload straight to the internet from mobile telephones,
and cameras and so on, and this makes it distinct, I think.

The fact that the IOC is articulating in quite precise terms that they regard blogging to be a form
of a personal diary and not a form of journalism I think is a partial realisation of this new form
of publishing. I think that this is something that could change for subsequent Games as it becomes
clearer that in fact the subject matter and the content that is uploaded through blogs, becomes an
integral part of what journalists rely on for their own work. And as we already have seen various
examples where bloggers are being brought into the main press pit of journalists that are
surrounding any major events, and I think that trend is only likely to continue.

The question for me is whether these practices of blogging whereby we might have regular citizens
writing their own blogs, or indeed athletes, would be brought under established traditional media
publishing systems, or whether in fact we could envisage new platforms emerging that would
challenge the traditional media, and we see that taking place in part already in only the last
year; we have seen organisations like the BBC for example and other national broadcasters,
purchasing channels within YouTube, so that their content is delivered via the YouTube website. In
my view I think it's not likely to be permissible that BBC use Olympic event content published on
YouTube, but nevertheless, that I think, is something we can look forward to.

Mick O'Regan: Dr Andy Miah, from the University of the West of Scotland, where he lectures in new
media and bioethics.

Of course, all of this begs a fundamental question: will the Chinese authorities simply be able to
stop any blog they don't like?

In 2000, the Chinese government initiated what's been called The Golden Shield Project, which
amalgamates internet surveillance and online censorship, plus many public data bases such as closed
circuit TV surveillance cameras, into one, big centralised system.

It's a firewall, and its purpose is not only to record everything that's going on in the country,
but also to monitor all information exchanges entering and leaving China.

It's estimated a staff of about 30,000 people maintain the system, and it's thought to be regulated
by seven different government bodies.

Dmitri Vitaliev is a digital security specialist and he's employed as a consultant by the NGO
Tactical Tech, which is described on their website as 'the point where advocacy meets technology.'

The Sports Factor's Andrew Davies asked him about China's online defences.

Dmitri Vitaliev: What the Chinese firewall does is whenever a user visits the wrong website, the
website on that blacklist, their system sends out what's called a reset packet, basically resetting
the connection both to the user and to the website that they're trying to open. So both sides of
the connection think that all of a sudden the connection was lost, there was a break in the

This happens when you visit a wrong website, also it happens when you're using a banned keyword, a
keyword which isn't allowed to be used from within the Chinese internet. The other thing that the
firewall does is after it disconnects you, it will not reconnect you to that website for anything
between ten minutes to an hour. However if you continue to try to open this website, your entire
internet connection will shut down and it will stop from working. And usually what has happened in
some of the cases we have seen is that from about this point the police arrive in less than an hour
to see exactly what it is you're doing there.

Andrew Davies: Just technically, do you think it will be possible for an athlete to post a critical
blog say about human rights, or labour rights, during the Beijing Games?

Dmitri Vitaliev: Possibly it will allow them to post the blog, but that blog may be removed within
a matter of minutes. The other possibility and one of the aspects of how this firewall works, is
that it blocks certain keywords, so as soon as you send a blog that contains a banned keyword in
it, perhaps it's 'human rights' or 'Tiananmen Square' or 'Falun Gong' or something else, your
internet connection will be cut, and your blog will not get to its destination, to the blog server.

Andrew Davies: Right, and does it make any difference if you're posting, say, just text on a blog,
or audio or video? Or is it just on key words?

Dmitri Vitaliev: The key words would only work in text, I imagine. I don't think it would as yet
work on text or on video. Somebody would actually need to see that first, once it's been uploaded,
and block it from then. Mind you, it will only be blocked from people browsing the internet from
China, not from any of us. So once this blog does come out, it will be freely available for all of
us to see.

Mick O'Regan: Dmitri Vitaliev, a digital security consultant with the non-government organisation,
Tactical Tech, speaking with Andrew Davies.

As far as the International Olympic Committee guidelines on blogging are concerned, there hasn't
been a uniform response from different national organisations.

For example, the British Olympic Association has yet to make a formal decision on whether their
athletes will be permitted to write blogs. And their spokesperson declined our request for an

Here in Australia, our Olympic Committee has decided to give the Australian team the thumbs-up when
it comes to pushing their Olympic experiences into cyberspace.

Mike Tancred is the Communications Manager for the AOC.

Mike Tancred: The Australian Olympic Committee's welcomed the IOC decision to allow athletes to
blog at the Games. We think that it's a form of expression and there is a goal, if you like, by the
Olympic movement, to get more in touch with young people throughout the world. A couple of things
have happened since the Athens 2004 Games: we realised that more generation X and Y were certainly
on the internet, and there was a decline in those people watching free-to-air television, so the
Olympic movement is aware that we need to reach out to them and blogging is a way, we feel, we can
do that, because we know they like it, and we hope they'll get involved with it in Beijing.

Mick O'Regan: Now according to the IOC blogging guidelines, it's not carte blanche, there are some
limitations it would seem to me. The key one I suppose to begin with, is that even though the IOC
says in its guidelines that it regards blogging as a legitimate form of personal expression and not
as a form of journalism, it throws up that whole issue. Athletes can't act as journalists.

Mike Tancred: No, they can't. That's been a long-standing rule. Basically what we're saying in
these guidelines is that we welcome the athletes' blogging, but they can only speak about their own
performance. We don't want them to be critical of their other team-mates or athletes from other
nations; we don't feel that is correct. We want them to go on there, tell their story from inside
the village, and this is a major breakthrough for everyone, because really what's gone on in the
village previous to 2008, no-one really knows about. So now people will get an insight into life
inside the village, and this is a real positive from the blogs.

Mick O'Regan: Now one of the concerns for people who might have had reservations about the blogs,
is that they would become vehicles for politicisation, that basically athletes who had a campaign
on which they wanted to crusade would have this opportunity. Now I notice that in the second
guideline where it talks about personal information, it says the content 'be confined solely to
their personal Olympic-related experience'. Is that specifically to limit people for example
talking about China's human rights record?

Mike Tancred: From an AOC point of view, we're not going to gag athletes in speaking to the media,
or in blogs at the 2008 Olympic Games. We're not going to gag anyone. We have a set of values
called ASPIRE, and the 'e' in ASPIRE stands for 'express yourself'. So our athletes will be allowed
to express themselves at these Games. There is a rule, an IOC rule in the guidelines, it's Rule 51,
which outlaws political demonstrations, racial demonstrations, religious demonstrations, but we
feel that what an athlete may say in a blog, or in an interview doesn't constitute a demonstration.

Mick O'Regan: Right. Because say last week on the program we spoke to a swimming aspirant, Michelle
Engelsman, who hopes to represent Australia in sprinting in swimming. Now she, as listeners may be
aware, has signed up to Team Darfur, which is a coalition of athletes who want to raise world
attention to the humanitarian crisis in the Sudan, and want to try and put some celebrity pressure,
if you like, on the Chinese government, which has close diplomatic relations with Khartoum. If we
use Michelle Engelsman just as an example, and this is hypothetical, say if for her the most
important part of her experience at the Olympics had been the chance to meet other athletes and to
talk about her passion for bringing public awareness to that crisis, does that fall within the
scope of what's legitimate?

Mike Tancred: We wouldn't have a problem with that. I did hear Michelle's interview, Mick, I get up
really early, I think I heard it about 4 or 5 o'clock in the morning, and it was quite interesting;
I was very interested in what she had to say, and I really picked up on one point she made, and
that was that she would not preach to her fellow athletes if she did make the Australian team and
she was living in the village with the other 10,500 athletes.

What I find, and I lived in the village in Sydney and I lived in the village in Athens, and it is a
really fantastic experience for what I consider myself to be an outsider, but look, inside the
Olympic village sport transcends all boundaries; religious differences, racial differences,
political differences are all forgotten. The fact that your skin might be black, white, red, yellow
or brown is not an issue for the athletes. The fact that you might be a Communist, a Muslim, a
Catholic, a Methodist, you know, the fact that you might vote for the Democrats or the Republicans
or Labor or whatever, those sort of issues don't get raised really in the Olympic Village, because
the 10,500 athletes who go to the Olympics, Mick, are elite athletes, and they're there fulfilling
a dream. They've worked for four years, eight years, some of them have worked for a lifetime to get
to the Olympics, and really their focus is sport, and competing, and friendship and harmony, they
don't get involved in these types of issues.

Mick O'Regan: Well it's interesting though if you did hear last week's programs, for which I'm very
appreciative Mike, Joey Cheek who was a US Winter Olympian, now he made that gesture of I think
donating his medal bonus for his victory and his Silver Medal at the Turin Winter Games, to a right
to play a cause that basically draws attention to children's right to play. Now what occurred to me
is that he was actually realising that as an Olympic athlete, and being in that extraordinary
spotlight that the Olympics provides, that once the demands of his events were over, he did
actually have an opportunity to use those resources to further an idea that he felt strongly about,
and I suppose obviously what I'm getting at is, is that what an Australian athlete could do? If he
or she is through the sporting demands that her event or his event places upon them, that they then
could maybe write blogs that were more political in content?

Mike Tancred: Well they may well do that, Mick. But let me take you through a typical day for an
athlete inside the Olympic village at the Olympic Games. They get up, they have a shower, they have
breakfast, then they get on a bus and they go to training. They get back from training about
lunch-time, they go back up to the dining hall and they have lunch. After lunch they probably get
some medical treatment, they get changed, have a shower and then they go to training again, then
they get back in time from the venue to probably have dinner, then they have a team meeting, and
then they go to bed. Not a lot of time for anything else but sport. And again, one of the
interesting things about blogging, whilst we think it's going to be great, some head coaches that
I've spoken to are going to say to their athletes, 'Sorry, but you just can't blog at these Games
because you're here to do a job, and it's only going to be a distraction.' '

I know that the swimming head coach has a real problem with blogging because he wants his athletes
focused on the job that they're there to do, and he's saying, 'Well hang on, you may not have time
to blog', and I don't think they will. A lot of them turn off their mobile phones. Lauren Burns,
for instance, when she went to the 2000 Olympics, she won a Gold Medal in Tae Kwon Do, she said to
her family, not just her friends, but her family before she went into the village, 'Sorry, but you
won't have any contact with me for the next couple of weeks, because I'm here to concentrate, and
I'm turning off my phone'. So a lot of people may not have time to blog, Mick.

Mick O'Regan: Right. But the other point that comes through to me there, if a head coach to you
said, 'Don't blog because of the time constraints', is that not counter to the idea that you've
just outlined, that the AOC encourages athletes to express themselves? Does everything fall behind
the sort of imprimatur of the sporting coach saying 'This is the time schedule; this is what you
must do?'

Mike Tancred: In my opinion, yes, because these people are, as I say, elite athletes, they're
professionals, and whilst Pierre de Coubertain in 1896 said it was not the winning but the
participating which was important, in 2008 you're not there as a participator, you are a competitor
really, if you want to be fair dinkum about it. And these people are going there, they are fair
dinkum, that do their best for themselves, they're there to do their best for their sport, and
their country, and sure, the sport comes first, and look, if you look at the bigger picture, we're
there to play sport in friendship and harmony and to shake your opponent's hand at the end, and to
do your best. You know, what you're hinting at is political problems that really China is a member
of the United Nations, they've signed the Human Rights Treaty, it's best left to the United Nations
and politicians really to solve the ills of the world, particularly as you're focusing on human
rights issues in China, because that's not the job of an athlete, in our opinion.

Mick O'Regan: Right. Though I suppose that the whole point of this discussion is whether if a
particular athlete decided that he or she wanted to augment their sporting prowess with a
commitment to a human rights campaign, whether they'd be able to do it. And just on that, and look,

Mike Tancred: I can answer that. Of course they can. We're not going to stop that. We think that's
terrific. Like yesterday, I had a conversation with Ian Thorpe's manager in Melbourne, and he said
to me, 'Ian's really committed to the anti-whaling movement', and I think that's very commendable,
that's fantastic of Ian. So no, I don't have a problem with that. The Australian Olympic Committee
won't have a problem with that. If someone wants to give $20,000 which is what they get from the
Australian Olympic Committee for winning a Gold Medal, and they want to donate it, then that's
terrific. A lot of high profile athletes have foundations and are associated with charities and
movements, that's fine, that's not a problem.

Mick O'Regan: Mike, just as a final question, I again want to refer quickly back to last week's
show where I did draw attention to the very famous protest at the 1968 Mexico City Games, where the
two African-Americans, First placegetter and Bronze Medallist in the Mens' 200 metres sprint gave a
clenched-fist, black-power salute to highlight their campaign for equal rights within the United
States of America at the time. Now I omitted to say, on purpose, I didn't draw attention to Peter
Norman, but the third person on that podium was the Silver Medallist, the late Peter Norman, who
died in 2006. Peter knew about the protest that John Carlos and Tommie Smith were about to
undertake. He wore in solidarity with them an OPHR badge, an Olympic Protest for Human Rights,
which he wore on his Australian tracksuit above his heart. Would something like that be acceptable
at the 2008 Beijing Games?

Mike Tancred: The Executive Board and the Team Executive at the Australian Olympic Committee, I've
raised this with them in meetings, and I'm glad you raised it really, Mick. When in 1968 in Mexico,
and you can imagine the Australian Olympic Committee was a much more formal, if you like,
organisation back then, and the world was a much more formal world back in 1968, so that protest
did send shockwaves around the world. The chef de mission of our team in 1968 was a gentleman
called Julius Patching. He's 90 years of age, he's probably the godfather of the Olympic movement
in Australia, and he's still alive, he lives down Geelong way in Victoria, and he has mentored, if
you like, people like John Coates, the current Australian Olympic Committee President, and who is
the chef de mission of our team in 2008.

When Peter Norman was involved in that protest, there were calls obviously from some people to send
Peter Norman home on the first plane. But Julius Patching called Peter Norman in, he was probably
spoken to and said, 'Peter that was probably not a wise thing to do.' But Julius Patching gave him
a bit of a slap on the wrist, gave him some tickets and said, 'Mate, you've done the wrong thing;
go out and enjoy yourself.' I think you know, that's probably the way we will confront this issue
when it happens in 2008. It'll be the call of John Coates, the chef de mission, but look, we've
talked about it, it may happen again, but you know, Julius Patching is a great man, and a great
thinker, and he saw it that way in 1968 and I think that's very important.

Mick O'Regan: It sounds like the great template on which to go forward. Mike Tancred, thank you
very much for being on The Sports Factor here on ABC Radio National.

Mike Tancred: Mick, thank you very much for having me.

Mick O'Regan: Mike Tancred, from the AOC.

Mountain Biking & Beijing

And finally this week let's turn from blogs to cogs.

Mountain biking is a relatively new Olympic sport, complementing the more traditional road and
track cycling at which Australia has excelled in recent years.

Beijing will be the fourth Olympiad to feature the sport, and the host nation's team is expected to
be particularly strong, along with riders from the US, Canada and the Scandinavian countries.

Dellys Starr hopes to be wearing the green and gold of Australia as she belts around a 40 kilometre
course for about two hours or so.

Dellys, welcome to The Sports Factor.

Dellys Starr: Thank you for having me.

Mick O'Regan: Now Dellys, I understand that the final selection for the Beijing Olympics in
mountain biking won't be occurring until 23rd June, but am I right in saying that you're a member
of the shadow team?

Dellys Starr: Yes, I am a member of the shadow squad, which basically is the pool of athletes which
the team will be selected from.

Mick O'Regan: Right. Now this is the fourth Olympiad that mountain biking has been an event. Do you
get a chance to familiarise yourself with the mountain biking course prior to racing?

Dellys Starr: We do get a chance. I believe they're going to be opening the course a week before we
compete, and we get a chance to practice on the course, and familiarise ourselves with the
technical aspects. It really is an advantage to know the course quite well before you race.

Mick O'Regan: Is it a little bit like show jumping in which there are a certain set number of types
of jumps or obstacles that you have to negotiate? For example, I know in mountain biking you often
have drops or very sharp turns or even logs that you have to surmount; are the courses like each
other, or are they all different?

Dellys Starr: There's pretty much no course like another. They're not similar in any way; there's
no particular aspects that a course has to have; generally it'll depend on the terrain, or wherever
the course is set. I believe the Beijing course, they've had to put a few man-made technical
obstacles in there, because there's not a lot of natural rock formations and things. But often
there'll be log drops and rock gardens, and tight, twisty stuff and steep climbs and there's always
a bit of mud in there too.

Mick O'Regan: Indeed. It's about two hours that the women race?

Dellys Starr: That's correct, yes.

Mick O'Regan: And how many kilometres do you cover in that two hours?

Dellys Starr: It's anywhere from 30 to 40 kilometres. Mountain biking is nothing like the road, I
mean we're only averaging around sometimes 12 kilometres an hour just because of the terrain that
we're racing on, it's extremely steep and technical. Whereas road races cover from anywhere to 150
kilometres. We're only covering 40 kilometres so we're racing for a solid two hours, and it's
extremely high intensity.

Mick O'Regan: Does that mean that a mountain biker like yourself, that you would have a slightly
different physique to a more traditional road racer?

Dellys Starr: Definitely. You look at the typical mountain biker, they're a little bit more
power-orientated, and we have a little bit more upper body strength, just being able to negotiate
your way through the technical sections and jump over logs and that sort of thing, you just need a
little bit more upper body strength than the typical road racer.

Mick O'Regan: Right. Now you're 31 (and don't take this the wrong way) but that would seem to me
makes you comparatively older as an Olympic athlete, but is that because in mountain biking
especially with women, endurance is a much more important factor than, say, sheer speed?

Dellys Starr: Definitely. I mean I felt throughout my career, I've been racing for around 12 years,
and just the longer that I've been racing, the more muscle memory you have, and endurance
definitely comes into play with this mountain biking. So I felt I've been getting stronger and
stronger, especially with women, a lot of them mature in the 30s. There are still women out there
racing who are in their 40s in the top ten in the world.

Mick O'Regan: Right. Now at the risk of making you sound immodest, and I'm sure you're not, are you
a chance to Medal?

Dellys Starr: I definitely would hope so. I'm going there to be on the podium and I don't think
there's any other way to aim, but it's going to be very tough and I'm going to give it my all.

Mick O'Regan: Indeed. Dellys Starr, thank you very much for being on The Sports Factor, here on ABC
Radio National.

Dellys Starr: Thanks very much, Mick.

Mick O'Regan: And that's our show for this week. My thanks to the production team of Andrew Davies
and Peter McMurray.