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Olympism, myth and reality: British media portrayals of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics

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posted on 12.09.2018 by Katie S. Butler
The purpose of this study was to explore the portrayal of Olympism in the British media coverage of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games. A figurational framework was implemented in making sense of the interdependencies that exist in the sport-Olympic-media complex. Coubertin, as the founder of the modern Games, established the Olympics with Olympism as the ideology underpinning them. Still today, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) maintains that these principles are central to the Games (IOC website, 2004). In this examination, the question of whether the presence of Olympism is a myth or reality in the mediated version of the Games was addressed. A qualitative content analysis was carried out of the British press and BBC television coverage of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. Using a coding system, themes relating to Olympism were searched for and, where found, evidenced. Working inductively, any other themes which emerged from the data were also identified. The findings demonstrated that there was a general absence of ideas relating to Olympism in the British media coverage of the Games. Instead, the dominant themes or characteristics which emerged were: politics; a nationalistic bias; gendered treatment of athletes; and a focus on high performance sport. It is proposed that this framing of the Games directly opposes several elements of the Olympic ideology: international understanding; cultural exchange; equal opportunity for all; and the separation of sport and politics. The conclusions drawn from this study are that whilst the IOC is a significant body in sportisation, and global processes more broadly, it is by no means all powerful. The Olympics retain their place at the forefront of world sporting competition only when interpreted as reflecting the dominant ideology of the time, that is, the achievement sport ethic and capitalist consumption. The IOC and media institutions are highly interdependent, however, the media institutions retain a degree of autonomy which means they are able to frame the Olympics in a way which suits their own needs: those of consumption. Any elements of the IOC's own, alternative, ideology (assuming that the ideology stated is actually that which is of central interest) which do not fit with the dominant sport model do not feature in the mediated public experience of the Games.



  • Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences


© Katie S. Butler

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This work is made available according to the conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) licence. Full details of this licence are available at:

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy at Loughborough University.




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