Tragic accidents on the field of sport in social media times

One of the things that came out of the attack in London on the Westminster Bridge on Wednesday, March 22, was the tweet by London Metropolitan police asking people to use common sense and restraint in circulating photos and videos of the victims. It sure would have been disrespectful to the victims and their loved ones.

Another incident, this time a funeral of a celebrity parent and the grieving celebrity (Aishwarya Rai Bachhan, ex-miss World, model and actor) were in circulation. Another celebrity sibling took to social media to condemn this. She requested general public to not click and watch the photos. 

On the heels of these two events, one more, sadly followed.  There was no loss of life involved here but tragic nonetheless. While watching the Ireland-Wales FIFA World Cup qualifier on Friday, March 24, during the second half of the match Ireland captain, Seamus Coleman got injured. It was a bad tackle from Wales’ Neil Taylor. The injury was serious.  As is the case with such incidents being replayed while watching on live TV, it was a surprise when the commentator announced that out of respect and considering the grievous nature of the injury they would not show the replays.  To me, this was the most responsible and respectful response on the part of the network. 

This incident also took me back to another incident I witnessed on TV more than a decade ago when I had the privilege to be part of the 15th Asian Games in 2006 in Doha, Qatar. During the Games time (December 1 to December 15) , it was very busy and the Athlete’s Village (AV), which was our workplace, wore a festive look.  There was always that buzz, excitement throughout the AV during that time. From the moment you would clear the security and step into the AV, the festive environment would just pull you in. 

One morning while getting ready to leave for work, on TV, equestrian events were being live broadcasted. I do not follow or understand the sport of equestrian as such but here I had this particular interest because I was the liaison person with the logistics department for the NOCs. I was coordinating the movement of the horses, their passports, quarantine requirements and other such stuff. 

Back to the live equestrian Eventing competition on the TV, the equestrian athletes from participating countries were going through their obstacles and suddenly there was this athlete who fell from his horse while trying to clear one of the obstacles (it was the 8th obstacle).  While he was thrown down his horse fell on him. This was replayed again and again on TV.  I noticed it was a bad fall, but I couldn’t understand the commentary because it was in Arabic.  Only thing that baffled me were the replays. While it was still on, I left for work, thinking about the athlete and his injuries. 

When I arrived at the AV, I could sense something amiss, right from going through the security.  I entered the AV and it was missing its usual buzz and vibrancy.  There was an eerie silence. The AV wore a subdued look. After a ten-minute walk through the AV, I arrived at my desk. On arrival, my first question to my colleague was, “why is it so silent in the AV today?” He was surprised that I did not know the reason. He then told me about the equestrian accident and that the athlete, Kim Hyung Chil of South Korea, had passed away. I was stunned and shocked. 

Earlier in the day what I was watching I didn’t realize at the time was someone in their last moments.  There was that immense feeling of sadness about the loss of life and secondly that immense distress for watching that incident.  I just got that gut wrenching feeling and it was difficult to shake it out. 

Fast forward to 2017 to that Ireland-Wales match that I mentioned earlier in the article. The TV network decided not to replay the horrific tackle and injury to Coleman. My mind travelled back to the Doha incident and I now appreciated the network’s stance not to replay Coleman’s injury incident. 

However, that relief I felt, was short lived.  I saw Coleman trending on Twitter.  The videos and photos of that tackle by Taylor on Coleman was all over the social media. No, I didn’t click on any of it and decided to move away from that page. But that was my choice.  Just like it was the choice of many to share the videos and photos. Just like many to click and watch those videos and/or photos of that horrible incident. 

That made me wonder why do we have to record someone’s pain and grief? Why do we chose to watch that content, and especially if it involves a public figure/a celebrity? We live in the times where clicking photos and recording videos/audios are just a tap on handheld devices. I wonder what are we thinking when we record such incidents. And then go and share it on social media platforms. Why does someone’s grief become so palatable?  What makes us so insensitive to someone in pain that we actually want to see it?  For a moment, if we pause and imagine ourselves in that person’s shoes, would we liked to be recorded/photographed in our most vulnerable moment?  I believe the answer would be a safe no, at least for majority of us. 

So how do we stop this? And whether it is even possible to stop it?  Again, it is safe to say that to eradicate this issue is going to be next to impossible. Unless we show some self-restrain ourselves. Would education and awareness around this issue help? Probably.  Maybe introduce the dos and don’ts of social media specifically focusing on the subject of tragic incidents, grief and pain. This education should be for all – for children in school, for students in Universities and for employees at their work places.

While on road, if the intention to record is to gather evidence then by all means record/click photos but then hand it over to the authorities and refrain from sharing it on social media. For all those accidents on the field of sport, let those replays remain away from the fans and into the hands of investigative agencies. So that they can look at accidents in depth and arrive at conclusions to make the sport in question safe for its future participants.  

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