Designed to be followed far away from homes due to coronavirus restrictions preventing public presence at the venues, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games have become a digital issue bigger than ever before.
From social media to broadcasting, athletes and their competitions reached the public in innovative ways and broke records. More than 100 million users visited the Olympics’ digital platforms or used the Tokyo 2020 app during the first week of the Games. Owning the broadcasting rights for the United States, NBC recorded 2.5 billion minutes of Olympic content across all its digital platforms, which is 77% more than the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games.
But it’s surely the social media that’s causing the greatest buzz. The games’ account posts on TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Weibo generated 3.7 billion interactions. And in total, all profiles reached a massive 75 million followers.
With the increasing involvement of social media in the Olympics, a question that has not been discussed until now has arisen.
Is social media a challenge or an opportunity for Olympic Athletes?
Last month, Simone Biles withdrew from the Tokyo 2020 Olympics individual all-around competition to focus on her mental health.
“After further evaluation, Biles will not participate in the next event to focus on her mental health,” the federation said on its Twitter account.
After further medical evaluation, Simone Biles has withdrawn from the final individual all-around competition. We wholeheartedly support Simone’s decision and applaud her bravery in prioritizing her well-being. Her courage shows, yet again, why she is a role model for so many. pic.twitter.com/6ILdtSQF7o
— USA Gymnastics (@USAGym) July 28, 2021
Biles explained that her withdrawal was due to tremendous pressure she faced and indicated her intention to take care of his mental health.
“Since entering the tapestry, I am alone with my head, dealing with demons in my head (…) I must do what is good for me and focus on my mental health and not compromise my health and well-being“, she explained to the press.
After Biles’ withdrawal from the final of women’s gymnastics team and individual all-around competition, other Olympic athletes have said they have abandoned several social media platforms to protect their own mental well-being.
An example is Ariarne Titmus. The Australian swimmer, who won two Olympic gold medals in the 200 and 400 meters freestyle in Tokyo 2020, stated that she removed all social media applications from her phone to avoid external pressure.
Bu gönderiyi Instagram’da gör
After winning a heartbreaking silver medal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Dutch cyclist Annemiek van Vleuten made a similar decision to step away from social media. As she crossed the finish line after completing the 147-kilometer ride, she raised her arms in celebration – thinking she had won the gold medal. However, the young cyclist was unaware that Austrian Anna Kiesenhofer, who crossed the finish line far ahead of her competitors, took the gold medal. To deal with the possible social media backlash over the incident, Van Vleuten chose to stay out of it all.
After finally winning the gold medal in the individual time trial, Vleuten explained that she had isolated herself from social media to support her preparation. “I isolated myself from social media, and the message I took home from the road race was that I was in my best possible shape,” she said to the press.
Bu gönderiyi Instagram’da gör
Set to enter the biggest ever Olympic team with 580 athletes expected to compete at Tokyo 2020, Japan announced in June that it will be partnering with the police to patrol the social media accounts of these Japanese athletes and protect their accounts from possible hateful comments.
Swimmer Rikako Ikee, who was preparing to represent her country after surviving leukemia, was one of the Japanese athletes who suffered heavy pressure through social media. Referring to the anti-Olympic messages she received that urged her to abandon her wish to participate in this summer’s games, the famous Japanese swimmer said, “It is very painful for an athlete to be beaten like this,” on her Twitter account.
Given the controversies that the Olympic Games have left on social networks, the Brazilian Olympic Committee also recommended that all its athletes avoid these platforms to avoid public scrutiny while continuing their participation in Tokyo 2020.
“The COB strongly recommends that during their competitive period in Tokyo, athletes focus primarily on their performance, avoiding distractions that may divert them from the main objective.” the Committee stated in a press release.
The statement came after several players from the Brazilian soccer team competing in Tokyo 2020 mocked Argentina’s elimination from the Olympic tournament. Players have been criticized for their lack of sportsmanship, and some users recalled that Albiceleste won the Copa América against Verde-amarelha a few weeks ago.
Olympic athletes can use social media to represent both their skills and, apart from that, who they are and the values they believe in. But above all they are young people, and for them too – just as for everyone else, social media can be difficult to deal with. Moreover, the fact that they are seen as role models for other young people may make them more vulnerable to external pressure.
After living through a global pandemic for more than a year, we have certainly made the transition to a more virtually connected world. During this period, the media helped bring people to the same place at the same time, and that’s the whole point of events like the Olympics. It seems that we will see more and more people living their lives in the digital realm in the coming years. But where do we draw the line? The effects of social media use on mental health are still unclear, and we have a lot more to talk about.
Do you think athletes should be present on social media or is it better for them to stay away? Leave a comment below or reach out to us on social media and let us know what you think.