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Racist tweets and big screen blunders overshadow Olympic build-up

The Olympic Games hasn’t even had its opening ceremony, yet looking at London’s showpiece event through the tech lens has already thrown up some stories organisers would have been keen to avoid.

Not for the first time, we have a naïve sports figure landing themselves in hot water over tasteless tweeting. 24 hours ago, Greek triple jumper Paraskevi Papachristou was finishing off her mental and physical preparation for the Games. Now, she will be plumping up the cushions on her living room sofa and getting ready for a few weeks in front of the TV after a racist tweet led to her expulsion from the national team.

"With so many Africans in Greece... the West Nile mosquitoes will at least eat homemade food!!!"

That was how her Twitter ‘joke’ read, and the episode of staggering misjudgement brought instant action from Greek officials, with the team’s chief Isidoros Kouvelos telling SKAI TV, "She showed no respect for a basic Olympic value and unfortunately she is out."

Papachristou was forced to admit the tweet was in “bad taste”, but did little for her cause today by telling Reuters that her punishment was “highly excessive”.

A baffling indignation usurped any sentiment of regret as she continued, "After so many years of hurt and sacrifices to try and get to my first Olympics I am very bitter and upset. But what has upset me the most is the excessive reaction and speed of the disciplinary decision."

The 23-year-old added, "I have not slept at all and to be honest I am still trying to come to terms with what has happened. I am trying to stay calm otherwise I would lose control… I don't know if they want to make an example out of me because of my profile, this is for others to judge, but what I believe is that they used their maximum disciplinary power on me for this."

Papachristou’s account had already attracted attention when she recently retweeted comments from Ilias Kasidiaris of Greece’s far-right Golden Dawn party, as the politician criticised Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ stance on immigration. Kasidiaris achieved international notoriety last month when he slapped a female politician live on television, swinging repeatedly at the face of leftist Liana Kanelli. But unperturbed by his actions, Papachristou returned to the social network on Friday to tweet Kasidiaris, “Be always strong and true!”

So you could say Papachristou’s account was something of time-bomb - that well and truly exploded when her profile was thrust into the international limelight ahead the Olympics. Twitter and sportspeople rarely mix well, and this young Greek demonstrated yet again why more and more teams and authorities are banning their competitors from using the social network.

But Papachristou’s Twitter debacle wasn’t the only instance of tech causing Olympic levels of trouble on the eve of the Games. As North Korea’s women’s football team limbered up at Hampden Park before its clash with Colombia, players were aghast to see their names and faces paired with a South Korean flag on the stadium’s big-screen when the sides were announced.

The error was crass and would be an embarrassment regardless of the countries that were mixed up. But replacing a North Korean flag with South Korea’s, in light of the nations’ bitter and often highly tense relations, took the blunder to epic proportions.

With the media light shining so brightly on the Games and anyone, qualified or otherwise, now ready to pounce with cameras-in-hand, Olympic officials would have been desperate to steer clear of such moments. Yet after all the years of ‘meticulous’ preparation, a proverbial clanger has been dropped before the organisers have even had the chance to put on a pretty-looking opening ceremony.

Lord Moynihan, Director of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (Locog), told the Telegraph, "Locog have said that this was something they were very sorry about. Clearly it was an embarrassment. “

But Moynihan hinted that the North Korean side’s angry reaction – which saw kick-off delayed by an hour with team members threatening not to play - may have been over the top. “From our point of view if it had happened to us we would recognise that the organising committee had done their best to get it right, an error had been made and we would have accepted that apology," he said.

From a tech point of view, Wednesday night’s events have thrown a shadow over the build-up for the Games. With athletes embarrassing themselves via social networks and stadium organisers embarrassing themselves via big screens, let’s hope any Olympic glitches from hereon are a little less public.

Images: Associated Press