Last month we wrote an article about Grant Hackett’s recent bad press and discussed its implications both for his personal brand and his sponsors. This month, Australian swimming superstars have given us another example of image and reputational risk. Nick D’Arcy and Kenrick Monk were photographed posing with guns in a weapons store while in the US attending the Australian swim team’s pre-Olympic training camp. The photographs were published on the swimmers’ social media profiles. According to the Daily Telegraph, Australia's London chef de mission, Nick Green, told ABC radio that the Australian Olympic Committee was in the process of determining whether D’Arcy and Monk breached their team agreement by ‘bringing themselves into disrepute.’ The pair will now be returning back to Australia following completion of their events and will not be permitted to stay until the Closing Ceremony

As the 2012 Olympic Games fast approaches, the public eye is increasingly focussing on the stars of sport. The brand image of the professional athlete and the team, nation and sponsors they represent is projected in various forms of media and usually open to public comment.  The wide reach and accessibility of social media makes sites like Facebook and Twitter easy platforms for public figures to publish potentially inflammatory or sensitive material.

As a safeguard against an athlete’s indiscretion resulting in a reputational blow to the Australian Olympic Team, both Swimming Australia and the Australian Olympic Committee have set social media policies which include ‘take-down-clauses’. Swimming Australia has enforced such a policy against D’Arcy and Monk, instructing them to remove the photos from both their Facebook and Twitter pages.  Public statements of disapproval have also been made by Swimming Australia.

A representative of Swimming Australia told the Sydney Morning Herald that "Swimming Australia in no way condones these photos, and does not condone the posting of inappropriate content on ....any social media platform… this is a timely reminder for athletes to be more responsible to themselves, the public with whom they engage through social media, and the reputation of the sport.”

The swimmers have publically apologised for the photos. D’Arcy was quoted in the Daily Telegraph as saying:

"It was all just meant to be a bit of fun…If anyone's been offended I deeply apologise. It was never the intent, it was never supposed to be offensive."

As was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, this incident was neither D’Arcy nor Monk’s first experience of negative media attention. D’Arcy was convicted of assaulting former teammate Simon Cowley in 2008, and was consequently banned from competing for Australia in the 2008 Olympics and 2009 world championships. Monk received coverage in 2011 after he allegedly claimed that he was injured in a hit-and-run accident, before later admitting that he in fact fell off his skateboard.

These incidents illustrate the potential of social media for damaging associated brands linked to a high profile person. It is therefore important for organisations to ensure that its representatives demonstrate the values and attitudes that positively align with their brand and take swift corrective action when they fail to do so.