LONDON, July 24 (Reuters) - The explosion of social networking has changed sport for fans and athletes with experts predicting the greater interaction will mean the demise of passive armchair sports fans by the 2020 Olympics.
The London Olympics have been dubbed the first "social media Games" with sports fans and athletes heavy users of Facebook, Twitter and the video-sharing site YouTube to talk about events as they happen and show them immediately.
Sebastian Coe, Olympic gold medallist and chairman of the London organising committee, LOCOG, said people will no longer passively consume the Games from their armchairs.
"They are part of the action. They can comment on content, interact with the athletes, create and publish their own content," he said in a study on the future of technology and sport by Atos, an Olympic sponsor which provides the IT operations for the Games.
"Never before has there been such a channel to interact with the world, especially with young people," he added, stressing the importance of the younger generation's interest in the Olympics.
The change has happened fast, he said, which has wide reaching implications for the commercialisation of sport and how companies target fans. At the time of the 2000 Games in Sydney few people had fast Internet connections. In Athens in 2004, not many people had smartphones.
At the Beijing Olympics in 2008 there were 100 million people using Facebook but that figure has soared to about 900 million. Twitter was new in 2008 but now has more than 500 million users who send about 400 million tweets daily with sports news regularly broken on the micro-blogging network.
Gilles Grapinet, head of Atos' Global Functions, said social media was already playing an unprecedented role in how information is disseminated from the 2012 Olympics and how the global sports conversation is driven during July and August.
Looking forward to 2020, he said there were two technology trends that would converge and totally change the way people watched sport at home - social media and direct gaming.
"The guy sitting calming with a beer, or a diet coke, with some peanuts and watching alone - this armchair fan will die," Grapinet told reporters at the launch of Atos' study.
He said in the past spectators at home might shout their advice or comments at the television but many people now used two screens for sport - one to watch the action and the other to talk to people or see what was being said about the event.
By 2020 he predicted this would become more interactive with spectators able to jump into the action themselves, replaying a missed putt or goal themselves, or putting themselves in the shoes of a player receiving a ball or preparing for a race.
"This spectator will make and publish his own content and share it with other people," said Grapinet.
The study predicted that social media would not only change the way people watch sport but also planning at stadiums, where wireless capacity would be needed, the scouting process to spot young talent, and interaction between athletes and coaches. (Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith; Editing by Patrick Johnston)