No social media ban for Kiwi Winter Olympians

BEN STANLEY
Last updated 05:00 12/01/2014

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New Zealand athletes will have no restrictions on social media use during the Sochi Winter Olympics next month, despite the Australian team being banned from using Twitter and Instagram in Russia.

The Australian Winter Olympics team has been forbidden to use social media during training and competition in Russia, as well as travel from the athletes village to competition venues in Sochi.

The athletes, who have reacted aggressively against the ban, have blamed the gaffes of Australia's swim team at the London Olympics in 2012, whose poor performances were questioned after constant social media updates throughout the Games.

Peter Wardell, New Zealand's Winter Olympics chef de mission, said the Kiwi team will have no ban on what their athletes do, or say, on Twitter and Instagram during the Games - trusting them to remain "sensible".

"We encourage them to use it," Wardell told Sunday News. "We think it's a great part of who they are and what they do. The Aussies have created a bit of a backlash. Some of their athletes have been saying, we're going to do it anyway.

"It's something that is part of these people's lives. It's about going along with them, and talking about having respect for the New Zealand team, other athletes and being sensible about it."

Most of New Zealand's team - expected to be up to 15 strong when confirmed on January 19 after the final round of qualifications next week - have Twitter accounts. Freeski star Jossi Wells, one of New Zealand's brightest medal hopes in Sochi, has 14,798 followers on Twitter.

Russia's anti-gay propaganda laws have created controversy heading into the Winter Games, which begin on February 7, and suggestions are athletes could use social media to draw attention to the host government's treatment of the gay community.

Wardell and four other NZOC representatives will travel to Sochi on January 20. The team will begin to arrive in early February.

Two separate suicide bombings in the Southern Russian city of Volgograd claimed 32 lives in late December, putting security for the Games on high alert.

Wardell said he is confident the Kiwi team, who will be joined by New Zealand police officers in Russia, will be safe in Sochi.

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