World Snooker has written to the players asking them to moderate their language and behaviour on social networking sites after receiving complaints from members of the public.
“We understand that use of these technologies to communicate to the public and sporting fans are becoming common practice and play an important role in the promotion of individual players and our sport in general. However, members do need to remember that they are at all times ambassadors for the sport and as such have an obligation to maintain its profile and image within the public eye when using this media,” said Jason Ferguson, WPBSA chairman, in a letter to players.
This is an issue affecting all sports, namely what players do when they are unleashed from corporate PR shackles and left to their own devices.
Just yesterday golfer Rory McIlroy got into an online spat on Twitter with a commentator who had criticised him.
Football chiefs have warned players they will be disciplined for inappropriate behaviour online. Liverpool’s Ryan Babel was fined £10,000 for posting a mocked-up picture of a referee wearing a Manchester United shirt on Twitter.
But before people start foaming at the mouth about ‘political correctness gone mad’ and other such nonsense, consider the governing body’s position.
World Snooker is constantly on the look-out for sponsorship revenue to fund tournaments. Snooker is not top of the list for businesses and the economic situation makes finding backers even harder.
The players therefore need to be mindful that there is a difference between being yourself and causing unnecessary offence which may deter a firm from associating itself with our sport.
The point about ‘freedom of speech’ is that there is also a wider responsibility for what you say, and not always just to yourself.
The vast majority of what players write on social networking sites is standard stuff and no reason to get vexed about.
It is an outlet for them to bypass traditional media and just say what’s on their mind and, even more importantly, communicate directly with fans.
Snooker players are not intellectuals and academics discussing matters of great pith and moment. They don’t need to be.
Most of them are just down to earth blokes trying to earn a living playing a game they love (most of the time). They engage in healthy banter because this has been part of the environment of snooker clubs ever since they started playing - and it's one of the best things about the sport, the lack of pomposity or snobbery.
But snooker players are also public figures whose words are closely monitored and Twitter in particular is now used as the basis for news stories, even when the original comments were throwaway or tongue in cheek.
It would be a shame if players felt they should retreat from social networking in case they land themselves in trouble.
Equally, it would be a shame if they damaged their own reputations with some ill-timed, ill-thought out comments that would perhaps best be limited to their private lives.