Delgado, F. (2003) 'The Fusing of Sport and Politics. Media Constructions of US Versus Iran at France '98', in Journal of Sport and Social Issues, 27(3): 293 - 307.
[I have included this article as an example of gramscian analysis, although that may be controversial. It certainly operates with the same logic, and does flirt with the concept of hegemony and the role of media in political ideology, although it does not mention either Gramsci or British Cultural Studies. The argument is familiar, though, and reminds me of McCarthy et al.. It is almost as if it would have been nice to find that media constructions of the World Cup football qualifier between the US and Iran were overladen with all sorts of political implications and ideologies. However, Delgado is a good enough researcher to find all sorts of complexities. Nevertheless, there is still a temptation to see these complexities themselves as supporting the notion of hegemony after all -- the tension between empirical complexity and theoretical simplicity makes this a very interesting article.]
There are a number of analyses that suggests that sporting events can 'become sites of hyperbolic ideological and nationalistic rhetorics' (293) [and some are referenced pages 293-5]. The World Cup football qualifier between the USA and Iran clearly offered an opportunity for such media framing ['coding' is the usual British term, after S Hall's influential piece of work], although soccer was never very important to the US public. Nevertheless it could have been treated as an example of political conflict, partly because that would have been a way to make it accessible to the US public. However, 'uncomplicated notions of hegemonic frames' were challenged by a number of more complex 'contextualising factors -- recent history, ideological affiliations, political relations, geopolitical goals, cultural affinity for soccer' (294). However, this still leaves room for 'a dominant frame... the preferred reading of an issue' (294) [The usual problems arise here -- dominant for whom? Whose preferred reading? What sort of reading -- one actually accomplished by audiences, or one detected by critics lurking in the codes?]
Sporting occasions have clearly been intertwined with politics in the past, including the World Cup. Several examples are given on 295, including the 'so-called "soccer war" involving El Salvador and Honduras'. When the US and Iran met, there had been nearly two decades of little political contact. One theme that emerged was 'a thawing of relations', supported by the Clinton administration (296). The parallel is with Nixon and his 'ping-pong democracy'(296) [an attempt to build bridges between the USA and China using sport]. This was a politicisation of the game, and the issue is how the politics were to be managed by the mass media.
The media were to have a central role 'framing the... constructions of information... [intended to present)... issues... to the audience in the hopes of meeting several goals -- promulgation of a political viewpoint, to appeal to the broadest audience, to fit time or space constraints and... "to process large amounts of information routinely and quickly"' (297 -- the quote comes from Gitlin 1980). These frames 'often [NB] "serve the social interests represented by elite discourses"' (297, quoting Tucker 1998). [This is the decisive shift from technical critique to political critique]. However, 'perceivers' frames may not be consonant' (297), and frames may not be 'monolithic and unified' (298). Indeed, in this case 'two key frames will be shown to be in operation and often in conflict with one another' (298).
One option is to see the match as a simple game, leaving politics behind. The US players themselves are quoted as seeing it that way in a spirit of 'innocence and ignorance' (298 - 9). The Iranians also made public statements of this kind, and so did fans of both teams. Reporters developed this theme, and described the atmosphere after the Iranian victory as an inclusive party. However, these efforts could not resist 'the sheer force of a dominant frame' (299), and a quote from the US Soccer director indicates its power [he called it "the mother of all games" -- a reference to Saddam Hussain's threats to stage major final battles in Iraq]. These two 'media frames were in conflict' (300). [a number of quotes to illustrate both follow].
Thus 'The predominant mode of frame the match was through the term political' (300) [it is not all clear where this judgment comes from -- the quotes assembled or the theoretical frame]. This frame emerged from both 'the weight of history and international relations' and from an attempt to 'position the match as important, particularly for the US readers' (300). This attempt in turn can be understood 'as a consequence of journalistic habits and the already existing modes of receptions among readers' (301).
Having defined the match as political, this term had to be developed. A complication arose from a split among Iranians -- some exiles wanted to support the team but not the Iranian government. The French hosts wanted to minimise the potential for conflict, including protests by exiles. Iranians opposed each other, but also united in support of the team -- and when the Iranians won, the fans celebrated together.
American commentators stressed the 'liberalism and openness' of American culture (302), the shows of goodwill on the pitch, and offered sporting congratulations to the winning Iranian team. The Iranian team was congratulated for its sportsmanship and lack of political zeal. However, Iranian politicians and officials were treated as conventionally hostile to the US. [ So -- two sorts of politcal framing too? One stressing US values to be exteneded even to Ayatollahs, and the other showing Iran as the mad enemy of the USA?]
Generally, 'The political frame had to overwhelm wishes for a purely conceived athletic competition' (302) ['had to' in what sense -- theoretically, politically, empirically?]. However, the frame does show discontinuities -- Iran is both 'a political foe and a friendly rival', and fans themselves differ (302). These differences prevented the political frame from becoming 'reified'. Overall, media coverage did frame the match as a sporting contest, although 'the unstated frame that survived the encounter and the pre-match hype is that sport once again can be a safe preserve from the political, cultural, and national conflicts between nations' (303) [so the pro-US values one then?]. The apparent neutrality of the match did serve the political aims of Clinton in normalising relations, and in this sense, media discourses did promote elite social discourses [again, hegemony always wins. Delgado points out that this is because reality is complex and self contradictory, although he seems to ignore the possibility that so is elite discourse]. Overall, the match did seem to smooth the path of further athletic contests -- 'Athletics appeared to been a useful vehicle to bridge the ideological differences that separate the two nations' (303) [so is this a good or a bad thing, something that supports international capitalism and US hegemony or something that contradicts it?]
In the end, the event proved too complex for the media to cope effectively [in their theoretically 'assigned' role as capitalist/US spokespersons] -- too remote from the main sporting interests of Americans, too complex in that Iranians demonstrated differences among each other and so did the participants. No consistent frame was possible. What this shows is that other factors are involved in frames' effectiveness 'including knowledge of the event, context for the event and attendant discourse, and the reality of the actors involved' (304). The print media in particular had difficulty fitting everything into a single frame 'And, as with all ideological and hegemonic discourses, there is seepage and slippage inviting media consumers to focus on various elements within the frame' (304). [So have the notions of media frames supporting elite discourses as in the notion of hegemony been supportive or not? Are these complexities and slippages mere details that add variations to hegemonic discourses, or should they be investigated in their own right? Do the complexities nest nicely within the hegemonic discourse anyway, providing a kind of illusion of choice and individuality?]
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