Olympics: Swiss soccer player sent home for racist tweet

Michel Morganella joined the growing list of athletes at the London Olympics who have gotten into hot water for using Twitter.

Hussein Malla/AP
Switzerland's Michel Morganella (l.) battles against a South Korean player during their Group B men's soccer match at the London 2012 Summer Olympics in Coventry, England, Sunday.

Is it possible that no one told Swiss soccer player Michel Morganella that people he doesn't know can read Twitter? That, in fact, everyone can read Twitter?

When his frustration at losing to South Korea Sunday bubbled over into a crude tweet about how people from that country "can go burn" and are "a bunch of mongoloids," what did he think was going to happen, exactly?

What did happen was so predictable that it hardly even needs to be mentioned. He was sent home, probably on the first available flight out of Heathrow.

The London Games, it seems, are destined to become known as the Twitterlympics – or, more accurately, the first of the Twitterlympics, because social media isn't going anywhere. The question is: How much will the golden fist of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) allow athletes to get way with?  

Athletes are tweeting everything short of reports on trips to the loo. Normally, that's OK. We just get pearls like: "Walking the streets of London." (Thank you, @KingJames.)

But the press follows every athlete feed it can find, like buzzards circling above the smartphones of the unwary. And then the inevitable happens. Mr. Morganella vents his post-match spleen. American soccer goalkeeper Hope Solo flames one of the most beloved players in women's soccer history. A Greek triple jumper makes a crude and completely unprovoked comment about African immigrants.

The United States Olympic Committee, for its part, says it offers athletes no specific direction about tweeting during the Games. The 140-character digital stroll inside athletes' minds is, USOC officials figure, covered by existing codes of conduct.

So, for example, don't say anything on Twitter that you wouldn't say to a reporter. Or your mom.

Problem is, Ms. Solo would probably troll Brandi Chastain, World Cup winner and kicker of the single most important penalty in American soccer history, directly to her face. Given the opportunity to apologize for tweeting that Ms. Chastain was, to put it kindly, completely out of her depth as an NBC commentator, Solo declined.

She has not been disciplined, so score that one for the Twitter users and free speech. 

A group of athletes also took to Twitter Sunday to protest the IOC's Rule 40, which prevents athletes from promoting any sponsors during the Olympics except the 11 Olympic megasponsors (such as McDonald's and Samsung). The athletes say they could not compete without their sponsors, and it is unfair to deprive non-IOC sponsors of the platform that is the Olympics.

No word yet on whether those athletes will be forced to act as traffic cones in Piccadilly Circus by Supreme Olympic Mugwump Jacques Rogge, so the jury is still out on how far athletes can push Twitter protests at the Olympics. 

What is clear is that comments that are likely to offend virtually every reasonable human being on the planet are not suddenly OK because you type them using your thumbs. Morganella at least acknowledged that what he did was very, very wrong. 

"I made a huge error,” Morganella said in a statement.

Greek triple jumper Voula Papachristou, for her part, seemed to think nothing of her pre-Olympics tweet that "with so many Africans in Greece, the West Nile mosquitoes will be getting home food!!!" 

Her response: "That's how I am. I laugh. I am not a CD to get stuck!!! And if I make mistakes, I don't press the replay! I press Play and move on!!!"

She did not move on to London, at least. 

Score one for the IOC!

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