Weibo Games

By Feng Shu Source:Global Times Published: 2012-8-9 20:05:03

Chinese athletes' microblog accounts and sports news about the ongoing London Olympic Games on Sina and Tencent Photo: GT
Chinese athletes' microblog accounts and sports news about the ongoing London Olympic Games on Sina and Tencent Photo: GT

When Chinese shooter Yi Siling was surrounded by cheering spectators after winning the first gold medal at the London Olympic Games, many Chinese turned their attention to the bronze medal winner, Yu Dan, who quietly walked away as all the Chinese media put the spotlight on Yi.

"People just see the honor and happiness that the Olympic gold medal brings. However, they forget that Yu, as a quiet girl, is also fighting for China's expectations, as well as her dream," wrote one Internet user, whose comment was then forwarded by thousands of others.

Several days later, Chinese badminton players Yu Yang and Wang Xiaoli were disqualified from the women's doubles competition after being accused of seeking to lose intentionally. Immediately, Weibo turned into a debate arena where China's athletes and members of the public voiced contrasting opinions.

Birth of a phenomenon

Compared with the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008 when Weibo did not exist, the London Games has seen an unprecedented diversity of opinion come forth via Weibo.

As of Thursday, China's Web portal Sina claims to have seen 340 million comments about the Olympics on its Weibo since the Games began. Meanwhile, the front page tracker of Tencent Weibo shows it has attracted more than 220 million tweets on the Olympics.

"More than 80 percent of the top 10 topics on our site concern the ongoing Olympic Games," Liu Qi, deputy general manager of the marketing department of Sina, told the Global Times.

Beyond the cheers and celebrations over Chinese athletes' performances, tens of millions of comments on Weibo have, at the same time, offered different angles to look at the Olympic Games. While many cast doubts again on China's State-run sports system and its long-lasting "gold medal first" strategy, many poke fun at small details. "The London Olympic Games' main torch went out twice, the key to Wembley Stadium was lost, a strange woman snuck into the Opening Ceremony with the Indian team, the flags of South Korea and North Korea were mixed up, I wonder how London was awarded the right to host the Games," said one Internet user.

"While the TV broadcast of the Olympic Games remains a must-see, social media has extended the Games far beyond a mere sporting event," said Professor Zhang Yiwu from Peking University.

"Compared with China's traditional mainstream media known for their diplomatic stance on the Olympics, Weibo, as an alternative media, makes it possible for a diversity of opinions to be heard. Many things that cannot be said by the traditional media can be discussed on Weibo," Professor Liu Kang, from Shanghai Jiao Tong University, told the Global Times.

Bringing athletes closer

In the view of Chinese experts, public opinion on Weibo today reflects mainstream social values.

In Yu Yang and Wang Xiaoli's case, compared with the initial criticism both from the public and the media for their violation of the Olympic spirit, an editorial issued by People's Daily on August 6 criticized the "double standards" in the judgment of a few controversial issues during the Olympic Games. This came after a British cycling medalist was not disqualified after revealing he intentionally crashed in the preliminary round for the race to be restarted. 

"Weibo has won in terms of leading public opinion and has helped make this opinion much more objective and balanced," said Zhang, who thinks Weibo has actually changed the way media report on events.

"In the past, the mainstream media often formed public opinion, and now, the discussion on Weibo is influencing the media's attitude, which is then further strengthened by media again," Zhang added.

Meanwhile, Weibo, thanks to its boundless virtual reach, has enabled the public to interact more closely with stars.

After crashing out of his 110-meter hurdles heat on August 7, Liu Xiang received a huge show of support on Weibo, with about 35,000 Web users by August 9 expressing their feelings about their hero's fall at Liu's microblog on A few cast aspersions on the reasons for his tumble but an overwhelming majority of his 27.8 million followers leapt to defend him with grace, meanwhile, questioning the huge sacrifice athletes made for gold medals.

As for Chinese badminton champion Lin Dan's Weibo, his very short comment about completing his Olympic mission on August 5 attracted around 1.75 million comments in the first couple of days.

Weibo has also seen Olympians air their grievances upon feeling slighted or unfairly treated during the Games.

When 16-year-old swimming prodigy Ye Shiwen was put at the center of an international doping storm after she broke the world's record in the 400-meter medley, the teenager won overwhelming support. Following her coach Zhang Yadong's post, in which he angrily proclaimed the innocence of Ye and other Chinese swimmers, more than 1.3 million Internet users supported his post of "let all the skepticism on China go to hell."

As for disqualified Chinese badminton players Wang and Yu, they were able to express their feelings about their severe punishment and defend themselves against public criticism.

"Suffering from injuries, we are just trying to give up the game based on the rules, so that we could save energy and get well prepared for the following knock-out games. You never understand those injuries we have been through and our dream is simply shattered now," wrote Yu after their disqualification, which soon attracted heated debate among more than 700,000 Internet users.

In the eyes of Wang Yongzhi, vice chief editor of, home to Tentent Weibo, the Chinese public now has a much better understanding of the lives and pressure their sport stars face, rather than only remembering them as figures waving hands and flowers at the podium, with tears full of their eyes when the Chinese flag is raised during the national anthem.

"In the past, the Olympic champions were a lofty symbol of honor kept far away from the public, but today, these symbols step down from the podium as ordinary people," Wang told the Global Times.

On Chinese swimmer Jiao Liuyang's Weibo, she no longer appears as the aggressive swimmer who won the gold in the 200-meter butterfly, but as a fan of singer Liu Xin and a cat lover.
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War between Tencent and Sina

While this has been called the first "Twitter Olympics" by CNN, Chinese insiders say the role Weibo is playing far surpasses the role of just any social media.

Realizing the huge potential power behind Weibo, both Sina and Tencent, China's two major Weibo operators, have been making great efforts to leverage the golden opportunity of the London Olympic Games to win more users over to their platform. According to the latest figure by the China Internet Network Information Center, by the end of June, the number of Web users in China reached 538 million, with more than half of them using Weibo.

On Sina Weibo's front page, the Olympic theme is omnipresent and a list of Olympic-related links easily channels users toward feature pages for more information about the Games.

Tencent has also tried to lure more of its potential users. By attracting nearly 200 Chinese athletes and coaches for the Olympic Games, including 34 London Olympic champions, to open microblogs, Tencent Weibo aims to create "public opinion" during the Games through tens of millions of tweets by Olympians, their coaches, reporters and other celebrities.

In a newly created feature called "Microscope on the Games," Internet users can easily access to all the information about the Olympics by following an updated schedule, while the "Weibo channel" offers an overall view on the Olympic Games by grouping users based on their interests.

"We have made detailed preparations in order to make the best of the Olympics. After all, Chinese people have a strong emotional attachment to the Olympic Games, as it is when national pride is at its height," said Wang Yongzhi with Wang pointed out that since the Games began, Tencent weibo has seen logins rising by 50 percent and posts increasing by 41 percent.

Not pace-setters yet

Unlike the Beijing Olympic Games when China's leading portal website Sohu was the only licensed website for reporting the Games online, the London Olympics are being actively covered and discussed among the public thanks to Weibo, with the participation of people both in and outside the Olympic family.

But for Liu Xiaoying, a professor of mass communications from the Communication University of China, the biggest difference Weibo has brought is a real convergence of traditional sources, oral communication and new media.

"It is now truly a multimedia scenario, in which a diversity of voices are heard through different means," said Liu.

However, with most traditional media, such as the Xinhua News Agency or People's Daily, opening Weibo accounts to boost their presence, Liu said, voices from ordinary people remain less visible.

"Major media outlets and social elites are still leading the public opinion and setting the agenda for public topics. There remain different levels of authority on Weibo," Liu added.

Cao Yihan contributed to this story

Posted in: In-Depth

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