The Olympic Winter Games and Brazilian Participation: The Question of National Identity in the Media Coverage

Article excerpt

Introduction

The Olympic Winter Games (OWG) suffered from widespread inattention from press and public as being a secondary event in the context of the Olympic Movement for many years. But, especially in the last thirty years, it has attracted worldwide attention (public and participants).

In fact, this event had an uneasy history due to conflicts between commercialism, professionalism and the Olympic ideology. Commercialism and professionalism seemed to be endemic to sports such as skiing and skating, and they could undermine the Olympic core principles. It is not by chance that the OWG were sometimes named as "the unwanted stepchild of the Olympics." (1)

According to Gerlach, (2) Coubertin participated in and enjoyed winter sports, but he did not envision their inclusion in the Modern Olympic Games since the very beginning for both historical and philosophical reasons: (1) snow and ice sports were not part of the Ancient Olympics; (2) they did not further the Olympic ideal of widespread geographical distribution. (3)

Avery Brundage, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) president from 1952-1972, was an outspoken critic of what he called "frostible follies" and considered eliminating the Winter Games. He viewed amateurism and political abstinence as the fundamental Olympic values without which the Olympic idea was doomed to fail.

However, the rules of the Games changed to meet new demands. In this context, policies of expansion were created in the 1980s influenced by both Lord Killanin's and Samaranch's presidencies. One of those policies' goals was the encouragement and support for increasing the number of participant countries at the OWG (even those ones in which the winter sports practice would hardly be possible because of their climate conditions).

Within this "opening" and expanding process a new sociological problematic emerged from the Olympics context, which "dramatizes" (4) social relations, including identity dilemmas.

The comprehension of Olympic Games as a "cultural performance event" (5) provide us important elements for understanding the national identity narratives. In its understanding, it is valuable to highlight the most significant performative genres mentioned by MacAloon (6) which, according to him, are a central part of Olympic ideology: spectacle, festival, ritual and drama.

Based on the social theory, the identities are defined by symbolic oppositions. According to MacAloon, (7) the Olympic Games and its rituals incorporate the three structural identities, those of individuum, nation and humankind. By considering this, we can assert that the Olympics' context is a potential field for the elaboration and identification of those symbolic oppositions.

DaMatta (8) asserts that rituals are special moments of social life; they are not divorced from it. In the rituals, some elements of reality are emphasized and/or diminished. By studying them, "the world things" acquire a different meaning and can express more than what they express in their regular context.

This study aims to analyze sociological and historical aspects of Brazil's participation at the Olympic Winter Games mainly motivated by the question: How is the construction of the Brazilian national identity engineered by the media in a set of sports that can hardly be associated to Brazil? And, what are the marked characteristics present in Brazilian press narratives of the Vancouver 2010 Games? (9)

The research material for the study is drawn from coverage in O Globo, a Brazilian daily newspaper. Previous sociological studies on Brazilian Winter Olympic experience will serve as a basis for comparison of results in a hermeneutic perspective (10).

First, a brief historical overview of Latin American countries' involvement with the Olympic Movement (focused on Brazil) is provided. Then, the analysis itself is developed discussing, fundamentally, the national identity concept in the discursive practice perspective. …