Olympics will adopt AI tools to protect athletes from cyber abuse

More uses for artificial intelligence were announced Friday by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) ahead of next month’s Paris Games – the latest, an AI tool that will remove unsavory comments about participating athletes on social media.

"We will provide a proactive AI-powered safeguarding tool to protect athletes from cyber abuse during #Paris2024," Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach said in a press conference held Friday in Lausanne, Switzerland.

The press conference concludes a three-day meeting held by the IOC Executive Board – the last review meeting to take place before the opening ceremony along the Seine River kicks off the Paris Olympics on July 26th.

The IOC president went on to say that the proactive AI tool will offer extensive monitoring of socially generated Olympic content, covering the 15,000 athletes and officials taking part in the competition.

The AI-safeguarding tool is designed to automatically erase abusive posts, shielding the athletes from unnecessary online mistreatment, Bach said.

Although a first time step in attempting to reign in defamatory content targeting Olympic athletes, it's not clear in what capacity the tool will be deployed, or if the athletes would be required to provide access to their social media accounts for monitoring.

Thousands of athletes, billions of comments

More than 10,500 athletes will compete across 32 sports during the 17-day stretch, according to the Committee.

"We expect half a billion social media posts during these Games. If someone were to take only one second to read each post it would take them 16 years to go through," Bach said.

According to the international organization SafeSport International, online threats of interpersonal violence, abuse, and harassment threaten not only the ethical and social basis of sport but also the physical, emotional, and mental health of athletes.

"Online abuse of athletes is shockingly violent and unfiltered, and radiates beyond those who experience it directly to those who witness it," according to recently published research by Clinical Professor Dr. Margo Mountjoy, MD, PhD, and Associate Professor of Sport Psychology and Safe Sport Emma Kavanagh, experts on the perils of athlete online harassment.

Both affiliated with the International Olympic Committee Games Group, Mountjoy joined up with other advocates in Lausanne to discuss the issue, thanking the Committee for supporting athletes' mental "health and wellbeing."

World politics take center stage

Part of the concern over online harassment is being blamed on the two world conflicts dominating headlines in 2024 – Russia’s war with Ukraine and Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza.

Although Russian and Belarusian athletes have been banned from competing on behalf of their home countries, they have been allowed to participate in the Games as ‘neutral athletes'.

The decision to deny participation under the Russian flag sparked animosity and a wave of online propaganda from the Kremlin, most recently with a deepfake parody of Tom Cruise and the movie Olympus has fallen, singling out the IOC.

Still, the new AI controls will cover all kinds of online abuse, not just political attacks.

Bach also mentioned the latest political developments in France, including the upcoming snap parliamentary elections called by French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday – to take place in two rounds on June 30th and July 7th just two weeks before the opening ceremony.

Olympic training, race
Elite athletes competing. Image by kovop | Shutterstock

The IOC president said the board was “not concerned” the elections would disrupt either preparations or the Games themselves.

"Be it the government or the opposition they all express not only their wish but their determination that France presents itself at its best on the occasion of the Olympic Games," Bach said.

AI tools for good and bad

Established in 1894, the committee considers itself the “guardian of the Olympics,” with Bach also stating that the IOC will use AI at Paris in different areas."

In March last year, France approved the use of AI for crowd surveillance to help ensure the safety of millions of tourists during the over two-week event – making it the first EU nation to legalize the use of AI-powered surveillance.

As for the increased threat of cyberattacks and potential disruptions, Paris 2024 has been paying "ethical hackers" to stress test systems, to include using AI to help refine incident response measures by performing threat triage.

Paris Olympics 750
Image by Sarah Meyssonnier | Reuters

Unfortunately, insiders say it's not just the good guys who use AI to their advantage. Cybercriminals are also incorporating artificial intelligence into their tactics and techniques to help them carry out successful attacks.

Just this week, French law enforcement warned that over 300 fraudulent Olympic ticketing websites have popped up online in the last month to trick unsuspecting consumers into buying worthless tickets.

Security experts say that everyone – from athletes, high-profile figures, and tourists traveling to watch the games – has the potential to become a cyber victim during the 2024 Olympics.

Directly following the elite games, 4,400 athletes will compete in the 2024 Summer Paralympics, also being hosted in Paris from August 28th through September 8th.