Skip to main content

What about the social acceptance of disabled athletes in Europe? A Comparative analysis of the Paralympics media coverage in the written press of Germany, England, Spain, Greece and France

Final Activity Report Summary - DISABILITYINTEGRATION (What about the social acceptance of disabled athletes in Europe? A Comparative analysis of the Paralympics media coverage in the written press)

The status of research on the field media coverage of athletes with disabilities is on the same situation as the visibility of disabled people in mainstream media; that is to say is conspicuous by its absence. To our knowledge, during the last 10 years only 4 papers had focused on the media treatment of paralympic athletes, two of them treated the televised coverage of American channel CBS (Schell & Duncan, 1999; Schell & Rodriguez, 2001) and the two remaining papers (Schantz and Gilbert, 2001; Thomas & Smith, 2003) concerned with the press coverage of paralympic games. The present project aimed to fill a gap in the literature by bringing to light data concerning the social acceptance through the media coverage allotted to elite athletes in Europe.

Data were gathered from 10 broadsheet daily newspapers of wide national circulation, deriving from 5 European countries: El Pais & El Mundo (Spain), The Times & The Independent (England), Die Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung & Die Sueddeutsche Zeitung (Germany), Le Monde & Le Figaro (France), Ta Nea & Eleftherotipia (Greece).

Both qualitative and quantitative approaches were employed in order to obtain a more complete picture of the issue. In sum, our quantitative analysis indicate a progressively increase of the media coverage of elite athletes with disabilities in all European countries studied in our sample. Between the newspapers of the five different countries, whose media coverage was studied in the present study, French newspapers were found to publish very few articles and texts following by Spain. Germany had a stable relatively fair coverage. The two mainstream newspapers from England (The Times and the Independent) allotted the most extensive coverage. The data from the Greek newspapers cannot be compared with the other rest of the four countries because Athens hosted the 2004 paralympic Games, and as a result journalists offered a significantly biggest amount of the Games.

The qualitative part of the study offered evidence of stereotypical depictions of athletes with disabilities. Athletes often were depicted in passive positions, in a non-sport related context. Photographs showing emotional moments were frequently presented instead of showing athletes with disabilities in action, performing their athletic discipline. This kind of portrayals do not help change conventional, stereotyped images of disability seen as a sad, emotional, and over-dependent situation. Several linguistic elements connoting infantilisation were detected within the articles of our sample, but the novelty of this finding consists in the fact that childlike terms were applied to both female and male paralympic athletes. The results of this study were published in 5 Peer Reviewed Articles in International Journals.

The preliminary results of this study have attracted the interest of academia, Dr. Pappous presented these results in several international conferences, including Spain, Greece, Colombia and Qatar. On the 5th of November 2007, Dr. Pappous gave a Conference in the XIV International Congress of the Faculty of Sport Organisation. His conference was titled "Some champions not like the 'others'": Stigmatisation et Media Invisibility of the Disabled Athletes". Dr. Pappous has been invited to expose the results of this Marie-Curie project in the 3nd International Conference "People with Disabilities and Mass Media" 2008, that will take place in Athens, from 23 to 24 of June 2008. In this event the findings of the present project will be highlighted in a key-note conference titled "The Media Image of Elite Athletes with Disabilities in Europe".