'A genuinely emotional week': learning disability, sport and television – notes on the Special Olympics GB National Summer Games 2009
In July 2009, the Special Olympics Great Britain National Summer Games for athletes with learning disabilities were held in Leicester. Uniquely the Games achieved considerable television news coverage. This article offers a preliminary analysis of television representations of the Games. National TV coverage of the Paralympics is now established, but Special Olympics – and sport for people with learning disabilities in general – receives little media or research attention. This is partly because Special Olympics remains located outside mainstream national sporting networks and its ethos stresses the importance of participation over sporting excellence. The 2009 Games’ television coverage projected complex and ‘mixed’ messages reflected in the language, tone and images typically employed by broadcasters. We identify three key themes: first, the problematically relentless ‘positive’ tone of the coverage, which echoes wider public discourses concerning learning disability; second, the media emphasis on ‘human interest’ narratives and so, via these, the invidualizing of learning disability questions and the general absence of any wider discussion of political or social agendas linking sport and disability; finally, how television in its occasional focus on the families of athletes with learning disabilities articulated values and tensions which characterize the unusually conflicted status of the Games.
Citation:Carter, N. and Williams, J. (2012) “A genuinely emotional week”: learning disability, sport and television – notes on the Special Olympics GB National Summer Games 2009. Media, Culture and Society, 34 (2), pp. 211-227
Research Group:International Centre for Sports History and Culture
- School of Humanities