Graham Knight, Margaret MacNeil, and Peter Donnelly, "The Disappointment Games: Narratives of Olympic Failure in Canada and New Zealand"

Article excerpt

Graham Knight, Margaret MacNeil, and Peter Donnelly, "The Disappointment Games: Narratives of Olympic Failure in Canada and New Zealand," International Review for the Sociology of Sport 40, no. 1 (2005), pp. 25-51. Reviewed by Megan Popovic.

In this article, Knight, MacNeil, and Donnelly examine the narrative structure of press coverage in Canada and New Zealand during the 2000 Olympic Games. In particular, they assess how disappointment themes are woven into the media coverage of the event, which signal a "rupture in the relationship between expectations and action, and threaten the basis on which the reproduction of sociality is made possible." Media discourse has a large interpretive role in determining how this disappointment is experienced. In providing a comparative analysis of the disappointment narrative of these two countries, the authors show how local perspectives can vary in their approach to reporting on the outcomes of the same event.

Canada and New Zealand were selected because both possess similar political and economic systems, often place in the middle range of the Olympic medal tallies, and have close links with neighboring sporting powerhouses, the United States and Australia respectively. One major newspaper was selected from each country, the Toronto Star from Canada and the New Zealand Herald from New Zealand. The study was limited to one week prior to the Opening Ceremonies and one week following the Closing Ceremonies of the 2000 Olympic Games. Knight and his colleagues examine media coverage in the sports pages and news sections of the newspapers, including hard news reports, feature stories, opinion columns, and editorials. They focus their attention specifically on Olympic prospects and performances of Canadian and New Zealand athletes.

The authors base their study on Luhmann's (1995) theory on disappointment, which states that disappointment signifies the inception of insecurity into social relations on two levels: cognitive and normative. Cognitive disappointment implies an uncertainty of knowledge and possibility of inability in action, while normative disappointment represents a failure to fulfill social obligations with the potential for actions to be considered irresponsible or deviant. Both cognitive and normative orientations to disappointment imply a loss of trust and confidence because of the failing outcome. However, the critical distinction between the different levels is whether the action is interpreted to be open to pragmatic learning and modification. On the one hand, normative disappointment condemns the action as a failure to meet expectations with limited capacity for learning. Failure in this case is explained by an attribution of responsibility, blame, and intense nostalgia. In contrast, a cognitive response to disappointment moves beyond direct blame to identify how and why failure occurred and devises a strategic plan to improve future outcomes. While there is a historical tendency to transition from normative to cognitive levels of disappointment, the media narratives in this study contain a mixture of both levels.

Knight, MacNeil, and Donnelly examine two types of narrative framing. More specifically, thematic frames are used to identify and define the central events of failure to expressions of disappointment, while explanatory frames account for causes and effects of the disappointment itself. In addition, the authors consider the overall narrative framing of discourse within the delimited timeframe.

The findings conclude that the narrative frames varied between the two newspapers. Prior to the Games, several Herald articles assumed a pessimistic tone and mentioned the possibility for failure in the Games. …