Twitter and sports stars: The gift and the curse

Confession time - I love Twitter.

As a sports fan and journalist, I get to cyber-stalk my heroes, drop in and out of conversations and, best of all, pick up on all manner of news and gossip long before it hits mainstream media. (See Woods, Tiger.)

For sports stars though, Twitter is fast becoming both a gift and a curse.

A gift because it lets them interact with fans and display their personality as never before. A curse for the same reasons.

Last week we had England cricketers Kevin Pietersen (@kevinpp24) and Dimitri Mascarenhas (@DimiMascarenhas) getting into trouble for indiscreet tweets - KP for calling his omission from the one-day squad “a f*ck up” and Mascarenhas for insulting ECB selector Geoff Miller.

For the record, I enjoyed Pietersen’s little outburst - we need more of our sporting elite proving that they’re not emotionless robots handled by PR teams - but Mascarenhas probably went a step too far. Quick work, considering he only joined Twitter on August 31.

But Australian swimmer Stephanie Rice (@ItsStephRice) blew them both out of the water in the stupidity stakes this week with a spot of homophobia which cost her a lucrative sponsorship deal with Jaguar.

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The triple Olympic champion unwisely tweeted “suck on that f***ots” after the Australian rugby team beat South Africa last weekend.

Cue tearful press conference apology, promises to learn lessons, yada yada...

The message of this column? Well, fellow sports fans, I urge thee to get on Twitter forthwith. It’s where all the cool kids and foolish sporting giants hang out.

I’ll even point you in the right direction of the best folks to follow - MMA fighters Chael Sonnen (@sonnench) and Miguel Torres (@MiguelTorresMMA) are good value, as is basketball goliath Shaquille O’Neal (@THE_REAL_SHAQ) and our very own boxing champ David Haye (@mrdavidhaye).

In football, golden-maned Derby star and radio pundit Robbie Savage (@RobbieSavage8) is your best bet - you even get pictures of Sav’s new barnet, his days out with the wife and his tanning trips.

Finally you’ve got to follow cycling legend Lance Armstrong (@lancearmstrong) because, well, everyone does. It’s like Twitter law or some such. Oh, and follow me (@mark__heath) because I’m needy.

But please, friends and fellow sports enthusiasts, adhere to the golden rule of Twitter, oft ignored - for pity’s sake, think before you tweet.

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David Haye’s second defence of his world heavyweight title against fellow Englishman Audley Harrison is not, on paper, a fight to excite.

Yet the penchant that the pair have for trash talking – Haye has already promised to ‘violate’ Harrison in the ring – and big Audley’s compelling bid to finally claim the title he has promised, with varying degrees of delusion, to win since Sydney 2000 will make it a winner.

I fancy that the bout will attract interest like no other UK fight in years – and there’s always the chance that, should Harrison land his massive left hand, the notoriously weak around the whiskers Haye will fall first.

We have to wait until November 13, but I’ll get my prediction in now – Haye by KO inside 5 rounds.

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It’s just not cricket – a term we Brits have used for aeons to describe anything which lacks fairness, decency and honesty.

I can’t be the only one to see the irony of the term in the wake of the latest betting scandal.

But it’s a sad indictment of the state of things that I can’t think of any other sport to replace it in the clich�.

Is there a sport left which boasts fairness, decency and honesty?

- E-mail me at mark.heath@archant.co.uk if you want to agree, disagree, argue or insult. All welcome.

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