Say what you want, but power of the people on social media is strong

IT used to be like this. The media interviewed athletes or team managers and attended press conferences. Newspapers and online media then carried the articles and readers got to know what was going on.But that’s a thing of the past now. Social media has changed things, especially the way sports stars and clubs are interacting with fans.

From live-tweeting games and virtual cheerleading, spectators are no longer simply watching the sport and reading about it as they did in the past.

They are now an integral part of the explosive mix. Often, they can get their news, insights and commentary straight from the source.

Take the recent episode involving shuttlers Lee Zii Jia and Goh Jin Wei.

Both players were earlier barred from playing in international competitions for two years by the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM).

In the past, they would probably have had to accept their fates and probably appeal for a lighter sanction. But this is the era of social media where athletes can speak to the world when they feel there is an injustice.

And the reaction to BAM’s action was loud. Not only did local fans rant, the outrage came from around the world.

The national body must have never expected the backlash and they backtracked on their earlier decision after both Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Faizal Azumu and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob stepped in.

The two shuttlers are now free to continue their career as pros.

This could well be the future trend for up and coming national athletes who may want to take the big leap into the professional world.

It’s also important to point out that badminton now has a lucrative professional circuit. The prize money too is nothing to sneer about – it is huge, unlike a decade ago.What a feeling: India’s P.V. Sindhu  earned US$7.2mil (RM30.1mil) last year.           — AFPWhat a feeling: India’s P.V. Sindhu earned US$7.2mil (RM30.1mil) last year. — AFP

India’s 2019 world champion P.V. Sindhu is one example. The shuttler, who is ranked among the top 10, is among the highest earning women athletes (in all sports) in the world. She earned US$7.2mil (RM30.1mil) last year through endorsements and prize money.

Two other big names – tennis star Naomi Osaka and gymnast Simone Biles – have also used social media to inspire change on mental health issues.

Biles, an American superstar, stunned the Tokyo Olympics when she pulled out of the women’s team final citing immense pressure to meet expectations.

Osaka, who went out early in Tokyo, also revealed that she had been suffering from depression for a while despite having won four Grand Slam titles.

However, social media is also a double-edged sword and cuts both ways.

While it can bring a mass of adoring fans, it is also making athletes accountable for their public comments and the way they engage with the wider community.

Swimmer Stephanie Rice lost a valuable Jaguar sponsorship after using a gay slur in a tweet while Greece triple jump athlete Voula Papachristou was sent back home for posting a racist tweet during the 2012 London Olympics.

Social media, it seems, is here to stay and the traditional media just has to embrace the changes and join the game.

Things are getting more exciting.

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