Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter have become the ultimate double-edged sword in sport: useful tools to generate publicity, but potentially hazardous if left unregulated. Sporting clubs should take proactive steps to protect their rights as employers by implementing express social media policies to ensure appropriate steps may be taken to discipline athletes, staff or members of the club for improper use of social media.
Social media accounts provide a unique means for athletes, staff or members to interact with the wider community. This has the potential to build better relationships between clubs and the public. However, there remains a risk that social media will be used to communicate messages that are improper, offensive or inconsistent with club values.
Clubs may need to discipline athletes, staff or members for improper use of personal social media accounts. In severe cases this may even lead to dismissal.
The absence of an express social media policy may restrict sporting clubs from taking certain action, including dismissal of athletes and staff or termination of membership for improper personal use of social media. The public reach of athletes and their clubs means the potential ramifications of failing to implement an express social media policy may be far greater in the context of sporting clubs compared to the ordinary employment context.
The following are some key things that all clubs need to consider:
- What type of social media policy, if any, does your club have and what restrictions have been imposed?
- Does your club have a policy to deal with bullying online?
- Does your club have a policy to deal with damaging statements about the sport or the club made by athletes, staff or members online?
- Does you club have an up-to-date register of athletes, staff and members?
- Are your athletes, staff and members aware of what behaviour constitutes inappropriate use of social media?
- What protocol is in place for identifying and responding to inappropriate conduct online?
We recommend sporting clubs institute social media policies to regulate personal use of social media by athletes, staff and members of the sporting club.