132 | 31, pp. 131-151 | doxa.comunicación

July-December of 2020

The influence of sporting success on the sports coverage of Spanish women: the London 2012 and Rio 2016...

ISSN: 1696-019X / e-ISSN: 2386-3978

1. Introduction

Sporting achievements influence a country’s collective mood, strengthening its national identity and sometimes turning athletes into references and role models. As Fernández and Bassani (2008, p. 46) highlight, sports activities are today “at the centre of national identities,” and sports competitions have become a phenomenon that has a profound impact on the construction of nation’s and their population’s collective and individual social trust (Humanez, 2014). As the then president of Spain, Mariano Rajoy, would write at the end of the London 2012 Olympic Games in an opinion column published by Marca: “Spanish sportsmen and women must know that their efforts, hours of training and self-improvement, have served to satisfy an entire country” (Marca, 12/08/2012 p. 11).

The mass media coverage of these sporting feats contributes to reinforcing the role of sport as a social binder and national confidence (González-Ramallal, 2008; Meneses, 2008). It also ensures that some athletes’ sporting success is transferred to the country they represent (Caspistegui, 2012), encouraging citizens to do those sports (Méndez-Giménez, Fernández-Rio, and González, 2008). As indicated by Moragas (2000), “the mass media contribute to a notable increase in the national triumphalism of victories.” Durántez (2012) states that:

Through the press and other media and advertising, the Olympic medalist is given fame, the spotlight, and transcendence, where a whole series of results and classifications are stated according to the type of medal won and by which, even omitting the names of the athletes who have won, the absurd conclusion is reached that this or that country has won the Games (pp. 351-352).

We have focused our research on the London 2012 and Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games based on the premise that the media turns the elite sportsperson into a source of national pride and a sports reference when s/he wins international events. Our research analyses whether this is the case for these Olympic athletes.

These Olympic events have been chosen because in London 2012 (considered as “the women’s games as 4,676 athletes participated –46% of the athletes–, in all sports, and all delegations had a female representative), the Spanish sportswomen achieved such unexpected success as the male representatives’ failure. The Spanish men’s football team, a candidate for gold, was eliminated in the first phase. And male athletes won 6 medals (half of those won in Beijing 2008) while female athletes won 11 (in Beijing 2008 they won 4). For the first time, the Spanish female representatives won more medals than the men. This superiority would be repeated- albeit with a smaller difference (8/9)- in Rio in 2016.

The research is framed within critical feminist theory. As Kane and Maxwell (2011:203) highlighted regarding sports media coverage, a critical theorist asks whose voices, perspectives, and experiences are considered valid and dominant; and who are considered to be the essential athletes when analysing to whom the media pays attention and gives credibility (Alvesson and Willmott, 2003). As a subset of critical theory, feminist critical theory assumes that society is structured around a series of inequitable power relations through which women are systematically devalued