'Making the News:' the 2004 Athens Olympics and Competing Ideologies?

By Barnard, Sarah; Butler, Katie et al. | Olympika: The International Journal of Olympic Studies, Annual 2006 | Go to article overview

'Making the News:' the 2004 Athens Olympics and Competing Ideologies?


Barnard, Sarah, Butler, Katie, Golding, Peter, Maguire, Joseph, Olympika: The International Journal of Olympic Studies


This paper examines how the Olympics 'make the news' and how, in so doing, competing ideologies are framed and represented. Considered in the context of a discussion of broader questions concerning the Olympics and global sport, the paper details the findings of a content analysis that identifies and outlines the main themes of British news reporting of the Athens Olympics 2004 on television (BBC and ITV) and in the press (The Daily Telegraph, Guardian, Daily Mail, and the Sun). 1170 newspaper articles on Olympic-related news and 91 television news items were identified and coded as part of the content analysis. The main focus of news coverage was on medals, whether it be medal-winning performances, medal contenders/winners, or medal prospects. Such framing often fell within a nationalistic framework, and nearly two thirds of all news media coverage was on British athletes. Aspects of Olympism were referred to in a fifth of television news coverage and nearly a third of press coverage. In contrast, news coverage that refers to commercial interests was minimal; reference to corporate sponsors occurred in just 2.6 per cent (press) and 2.2 per cent (television) of all Olympic-related news stories. This study broadly demonstrates the dominance of national interests, the muted presence of Olympism, and the significant absence of reporting of commercial aspects in news media coverage of the Athens Olympics 2004. It also highlights how such news negotiates the 'competing' and overlapping ideologies underpinning the modern Olympic Games.

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The Olympic Games are a global event, not merely of supreme significance in the world of sports, but as a carrier of cultural meanings that are almost uniquely available to vast international audiences. (1) This essay is part of a broader project that seeks to investigate the character of those values and ideas, and to demonstrate how such meanings are constructed, distributed, and received by audiences. Sports in the media in general, and the Olympics in particular, are embedded in local/global processes in three ways: the production of media sport goods, the political economy of sport mediated texts, and the political economic aspect of consumption.

In investigating these processes, the broader project is guided by a set of related assumptions about the media, and media-sport, derived from critical political economy and process sociology. (2) The project situates the study of the Olympic Games within broader local/global processes, with specific reference to media and consumption. (3) That is, the project examines how a global mega-event, such as the Olympics, plays out locally (UK) and does so through the lens of the media-sport complex. (4) Arguably, as others have noted the Olympics are located at the heart of two contradictions. (5) The first is a contradiction between the ideals of Olympism and the realities of the modern Olympics in practice. It has been suggested that:

   The problem with Olympism is the Olympic Games. All things
   considered, the Olympic Games of the twentieth century are a
   paradox. The basic contradiction is that the games, in their
   contemporary incarnation, are the antithesis of the very ideals
   they ostensibly cherish. (6)

As the above suggests, questions clearly exist with regard to the legitimacy of Olympism as the raison d'etre of the Olympic Games. It is clear that the International Olympic Committee (IOC), whilst promoting the ideals of Olympism, has accommodated commercial pressures in order to ensure the success of the Games, and has therefore been seen to reinforce capitalist social relations and practices. (7) Indeed, the Celebrate Humanity campaign, developed by the IOC's marketing department, is best viewed as an attempt to enhance the brand rather than promote the values of Olympism per se. Whilst it has been argued that the 1984 Los Angeles Games epitomize the supremacy of commercial interests, even the first Games in 1896 were seen as a market place in order to make business connections and sell goods. …

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