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Old 27-07-2021, 10:53 PM
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The effect of social media on sport in 2021

I post this for two reasons…

Firstly because I think it’s a perceptive, disturbing and interesting glimpse into the pressure felt by professional athletes in 2021

And secondly because the author gets right on WCB’s tits.


For those in sport today, pressures are untenable amid an endlessly hostile kind of unregulated social experiment
Simone Biles withdrew from the women’s team gymnastics final on Tuesday, citing mental health concerns.

There are so many well-worn quotes about sport and pressure. Pressure makes diamonds. Pressure is for tyres. The greatest pressure is the pressure we put on ourselves. People often say cliches exist because they’re true. Quite a lot of the time they’re also bullshit.

But then, there has never been sporting pressure quite like this. Or indeed a shared public space like the one we have now: endlessly hostile, endlessly reverent, unceasingly present.

Keith Miller famously said that pressure is a Messerschmitt up your arse. The point being, when you’ve fought in a world war, pressure isn’t playing Test cricket in the 1950s. Well, Keith, the world has changed. And in the process we seem to have created a particular kind of 24-hour rolling hell for our superstar athletes.

At times this can look like some kind of unregulated social experiment. Be brilliant, constantly. Give us that thing we crave. And yes, you will be judged. You will be diced and dissected to the most minute degree. You will be asked to carry our hopes and fears, to embody our politics, to mean something, and to become even here a kind of commodity. This is unsustainable.

Naomi Osaka has already told us this, if we care to listen. Anyone can lose a tennis match, particularly an Olympic tennis match at the end of a strange, disjointed schedule during a strange, disjointed period in the life of planet Earth. She was gracious in defeat by the world No 42 Marketa Vondrousova.

Asked whether pressure was a part of it, she had the self-possession to avoid giving a definite answer. What words do you really want from me? How many billions of people are hanging, in real time, on the nuances of my answer? What kind of space have we made here? All of these might have been reasonable responses.

Osaka, who knows this world better than anyone because it is her world, eventually said: “Yes and no.” She suggested her recent mental health break hadn’t helped her performance. The question answers itself. Here is a young tennis player who has taken a mental health break, in part to avoid being asked painful questions, who is now answering painful questions about her mental health break.

Vondrousova spoke more plainly: “I can’t imagine that kind of pressure. She is the face of the Olympics.” As is Simone Biles, who has also taken a moment to breathe. Biles is a four-times Olympic champion and as tough a competitor as it’s possible to be. Nobody gets near her level, never mind the extra barriers she has had to vault, without being both of those things.

But Biles took a time out on Tuesday, and did so with grace. She didn’t have to. She doesn’t owe us more grace. She has given plenty already. There really doesn’t have to be a reason why Simone Biles might feel a little frayed, a little overexposed. A kind of violence is being applied to these people, and it is important to recognise the novelty of this.

Lose a match if you’re, say, John McEnroe in 1984, and you can disappear for a while. You can go back to your apartment and take the phone off the hook. The pressures you feel are tame, analogue celebrity pressures. There is no toxic white noise chasing you across every room, every space, every device in your home. Until very recently athletes could shrink a little, suffer in private, and emerge with only a dim shared memory of their last appearance on that stage.

Not now. Every part of your existence is public property. Biles and Osaka, these astonishingly talented women, are 24 and 23 respectively, and have lived their adult lives through this voracious digital culture barefoot, twiddling a racket, presented without a protective filter. There is no skin thick enough to shake that off indefinitely, no sense of self so powerfully detached it can get through this unbruised.

And naturally now that we have caught a glimpse of this pain there will be blame. Certainly many aspects of the mainstream media look joyless and unpleasant in this reflected light. Osaka has spoken of her struggle to answer difficult personal questions in public. Tom Daley was asked about the death of his father in victory on Monday night and spoke with a startling clarity that he owed to nobody and didn’t have to give. Imagine being asked that question in painful defeat, or when you just didn’t want to talk at all.

And yet to point the exculpatory finger of blame solely at the people holding the mics would be deeply dishonest. The shared digital voice of social media platforms carries its own far heavier weight, and will only expand and multiply from here. We all know this darkness. Imagine having that worst day, the one where mistakes are amplified and unkind words begin to bite. For the likes of Biles or Osaka, multiply that poison, that loss of self, by about five billion. What do we plan to do with this power? How are we going to behave here?

Plus of course Big Sport has a part in this pressure. So many athletes emerge from an industrialised version of their sport, a system that isn’t play or enjoyment, but a machine designed for winning. How is that supposed to play out at the current Olympics when athletes have been isolated, unable to train, and asked to emerge suddenly into the light and perform? Jade Jones gave a deeply moving interview in the bowels of the Makuhari Messe Hall on Sunday night after her defeat in the taekwondo, where she basically spoke about feeling vulnerable, isolated and unable to connect with her family.

It is easy to say that financial rewards and public exposure are offered in return for this, that to show any liking for either is to be condemned instantly as a charlatan, and ordered to suffer whatever the world may throw. Some will suggest these athletes should disconnect from the grid, become monkish, reclusive figures – or just become tougher, able to walk through this noise.

But the world isn’t like that any more. It is instead a place of unceasing noise, reverence, poison, expectation. And frankly sport looks a little done in this light. One thing is certain; the only people who really understand this world are those who are living through it in front of us. Time perhaps simply to listen.

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Last edited by Wolfnipplechips; 27-07-2021 at 11:05 PM.
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Old 27-07-2021, 11:05 PM
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I love Barney Ronay. He's a brilliant writer, and always thoughtful and entertaining.

Many people on this site say the most atrocious things about athletes and celebrities quite regularly. They are not often racist, but they are often sexist. I've said something similar at times when I was a lot younger, down the pub or on the terraces. But now they are readable by anyone and everyone, including the people being talked about. I think (and hope) the bbs will be a different place in a few years. It's a brilliant site, but there are some real nasty pieces of work on here at times, though doubtless in real life they are quite nice.
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Old 28-07-2021, 07:53 AM
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I like Barney Ronay as well, and this is a fascinating topic. Not sure how many clicks you will get putting it in World of Sport though, WNC.

There's always been the idea that successful sportsmen and women need to be "strong mentally", with cliches like "cricket is 90% mental, 10% technical" (Stuart Broad in The Edge). But it seems as though the pressure now put on black players, particularly those like Rashford, Sterling, Osaka, Kaepernick who have engaged politically or culturally, must be immense. Once again, it seems far easier for the straight, white sportsmen who are resolutely unpolitical - the worst they are likely to get is to be called shit, without the extra sexism, racism and homophobia that others will suffer.

God knows what can be done about it. It isn't reasonable to demand they live in a bubble to protect themselves from it - though if they chose to, it might very well make life easier for them. The way Naomi Osaka was fined and warned she would always have to attend those pointless press conferences was painful to see.

I look back at Ian Wright and see someone who fought some of these battles 20-30 years ago, and showed incredible resilience. Not sure if his upbringing had made him stronger, or hampered him, but he never backed off or seemed afraid. But even he didn't have the level of scrutiny sportspeople get these days.
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Old 28-07-2021, 08:11 AM
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Excellent article and highlights the horrible world that surfaces in many places at the moment. It seems to get ingrained from the playground with social media - see the example of the poor young boy lured to a park in Reading by a young girl to get stabbed by two similar aged boys purely because they had fallen out on social media.

The old adage on here started as don’t say anything on the BBS that you wouldn’t say to someone standing next to you. That seems to have been totally lost in the wider world. International sports people, like celebrities of all types, are viewed as a mix of public property and not actually real people. Throw in the resentment and hate that some feel about people of different colours or sexuality to them when they are successful and you get the cess pit of Twitter, Insta, FB, Telegram etc etc.

I hope it might change, but when you have leaders like Boris, Orban, Bolsarono & Trump throwing insults and abuse at anyone and everyone that hope is a slim one.

Sports people create huge national and personal highs (watch the video in my sign off from 2012) but when they don’t quite succeed a portion of the population seem to feel that the failure is also letting them down personally in some way, and lash out to abuse and blame them for not giving them that high of winning a medal or the Euros or a test match or an F1 race. Usually showing some other abuse be it racist, sexist, body issues (check out the BBC article about two of our young synchro swimmers being endlessly trolled about boobs and bums).

Sadly, I don’t think it will change anytime soon.
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Old 28-07-2021, 08:40 AM
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I am in two minds and undecided with Simone Biles.
Was it the pressure in the build up that has affected her performance (which it hasn't previously). She is obviously as world superstar now so maybe the pressure and expectation has got too her on a whole new level and fear of failure has become overwhelming . In this case I feel for her.
Or was it the pressure of performing badly which caused the issues. If it's this then I don't think she should be applauded for her action. Admit you had a bad day but had the commitment to carry on. If it's this that isn't the action of a role model or in the Olympic spirit. It's the first real adversity she has faced in competition that makes me question her actions..

I'm reserving judgement for now.
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Old 28-07-2021, 08:49 AM
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I am in two minds and undecided with Simone Biles.
Was it the pressure in the build up that has affected her performance (which it hasn't previously). She is obviously as world superstar now so maybe the pressure and expectation has got too her on a whole new level and fear of failure has become overwhelming . In this case I feel for her.
Or was it the pressure of performing badly which caused the issues. If it's this then I don't think she should be applauded for her action. Admit you had a bad day but had the commitment to carry on. If it's this that isn't the action of a role model or in the Olympic spirit. It's the first real adversity she has faced in competition that makes me question her actions..

I'm reserving judgement for now.
You're considering her as an athlete and nothing else. No one but her knows what may be going on in her life outside of sport that would impact upon her mental health. It may not be the pressure of the event, preasure of stardom or pressure to perform. The adversity she has faced in competition could be a result of something not related to her sport at all,and she has no obligation to explain that to anyone.
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Old 28-07-2021, 08:51 AM
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Old 28-07-2021, 10:18 AM
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You're considering her as an athlete and nothing else. No one but her knows what may be going on in her life outside of sport that would impact upon her mental health. It may not be the pressure of the event, preasure of stardom or pressure to perform. The adversity she has faced in competition could be a result of something not related to her sport at all,and she has no obligation to explain that to anyone.


Never asked her to explain it. Just said I'm reserving judgement, I may never even decide.

Your quite right it could be something totally out of the scope of professional sport. It might not either. It might also be she couldn't handle performing poorly..I have no idea.

The nature of the humans is to have opinions on things. No different to saying Benteke is crap cus he has scored 12 goals in 4 years or whatever. But most people don't consider he might have issues going on outside football
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Old 28-07-2021, 10:19 AM
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The writer seems to blame pressures created by social media.

Has there been a lot of pressure on Biles and Osaka via social media?

All the pressure seems to have been created by the overhype created by traditional media, which The Guardian is a part of. Is this article putting the blame on ignorant joe public whist trying to absolve traditional media of their role?

Biles hype pre-Olympics was created by mainstream media. I haven't seen her mentioned on my Facebook feed. Osaka's breaking point was her withdrawing from the French Open because they insisted that she did TV interviews, noy twitter or instagram interviews.

The article therefore, IMHO, is someone finding a further angle to get some column inches and money on the circus THEIR industry (not social media) has created.

I am not sure that I am in the same camp as those in the media joining the bandwagon applauding Biles's 'courage' for 'speaking out'. One, because many of them were the same individuals involved in the hype. Two, because I suspect 'mental issues' is a convenient get out clause for someone not bringing the top of their game to this Olympics. I saw her vaults and her floor exercise, and she committed errors.

The sportspeople themselves run their own social media sites and benefit from them.

I understand that the expectation is great, perhaps too great. But is that not part and parcel of this.

The solution is we all reign back - especially the mainstream media. We downsize the Olympics to a manageable number of sports, we don't bankrupt cities, and we return to keen amateurism without multi-million dollar sponsorships. If you don't want to give TV interviews at major tournaments, fine. Then we scale back the prize money. Top end sports stars earn a confortable living wage and prize money goes into their pension pot.

Ultimately, I find it distasteful that a mainstream reporter, or several mainstream reporters are making capital out of a situation they have helped create, and are now rushing to report insincere empathy - and put the blame at the feet of others.
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