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Front page stories and images during the first week of the Olympics focused mostly on the Olympics games, the opening ceremonies and the athletes. Politics, security and other related issues were mostly ignored. Overall, the most highlighted sports in both front page images and stories were swimming, gymnastics, weightlifting and basketball. But that was not constant across the globe, as different regions highlighted different sports on their front pages. Read the details below.

Chart 2.1 shows the majority of the front pages’ headlines and leads focused on the Olympic games, including matches, scores, wins and losses (51%). The opening ceremonies also received substantial coverage during the first week reaching slightly above 1/5th of the headlines and leads (21%). Athletes received 12% while Chinese foreign policy issues received only 4%, followed by general security and terrorism stories (3%) and Chinese internal politics (2%), including stories related to Tibet and freedoms in China.

There was not much difference when these results were compared across regions. All regions gave primary focus to the Olympic games (Arabic world 44%, Africa 50%, China 59%, EU-US 44%, Latin America 47% and Other Asia 65%). Only Latin America gave secondary prominence to athletes (18%) while all other regions’ secondary focus was on the opening ceremonies (Arabic world 28%, Africa 15%, China 26%, EU-US 18%, and Other Asia 16%).

Chart 2.1

When it came to images, however, the vast majority (73%) focused on athletes. The rest of the images highlighted fans, tourists and regular spectators (9%). Images of performers, especially those related to the opening ceremonies, made up 8%, while only 5% of the front pages’ images focused on politicians and 4% on police and security personnel. It is worth noting that none of the images showed religious figures and spiritual leaders.

Only slight differences appeared between the studied regions when the results were compared regionally. Front page images from all regions primarily focused on athletes (Arabic world 80%, Africa 65%, China 72%, EU-US 68%, Latin America 80% and Other Asia 84%). The difference did appear in the secondary focus of the images: Front page images from the Arabic world (19%) China (11%), other Asian countries (10%) and Africa (7%) highlighted politicians, while American front page images (9%) highlighted artists and politicians, and EU-US images highlighted fans and audiences (15%).

Chart 2.2

Chart 2.3 shows the same sport being highlighted both in images and in the texts of the front page stories. Swimming dominated the coverage with 17% of images and 16% of stories on the front pages focusing on that sport. Gymnastics came in second with 8% of images and 6% of stories highlighting that sport, followed by weightlifting (6% of images and 4 % of stories) and basketball (4% of stories and 4% of images).

It is important to note that the schedule of the games may have influenced these results, as the games that were scheduled during the first week would naturally receive more coverage than others. A brief look at the schedule of games at the 2008 Olympics shows, for instance, that swimming competitions, including some final games, took place during the first week, while no Taekwondo games were scheduled until August 20th. Still, almost all Judo final matches took place during a week when Judo didn’t register much on the front pages, except in newspapers from the Arabic world (see chart 2.5 below). Contrarily, no basketball final matches took place during the first week, but basketball was the fourth most highlighted sport in the images and stories. Also, beach volleyball had no final games in week one and was not highlighted on the front pages, except in African newspapers (see chart 2.5 below).

Chart 2.3

While chart 2.3 showed the most highlighted sports in the images and stories, chart 2.4 shows the most frequently appearing sport anywhere in the story, whether that sport was highlighted or mentioned fleetingly. Swimming still dominated with 24% of front page stories mentioning that sport somewhere in the text. Shooting came in second at 11% and weightlifting came in third at 10%, followed by basketball (9%), soccer (7%), diving (6%) and tennis (5%). Again, these results are influenced by the scheduling of the Olympics games.

Chart 2.4

The two charts above (2.3 and 2.4) discuss the overall coverage of sports across the globe. Chart 2.5 divides the coverage into the six regions of the study and shows that the front pages coming from different regions differed considerably in which sports they decided to highlight in their front page images. Front page images from the Arabic world highlighted judo with 19% of those images focusing on that sport, followed by shooting (10%) and weightlifting (5%). African front page images equally highlighted beach volleyball (14%) and swimming (14%), followed by gymnastics (10%). Chinese front page images gave weightlifting the most prominence (20%), followed by gymnastics (17%) and diving (8%). The EU/US images focused on swimming (30%), basketball (6%) and cycling (6%). Latin American front page images highlighted swimming (15%), soccer (11%) and gymnastics (9%). And images from other Asian countries focused on swimming (22%), shooting (12%) and weightlifting (4%).

These results are most likely influenced by the audiences of the studied newspapers and the medals a country is winning in each sport (along with the schedule of the games). A quick review of the Olympics medals records shows some correlation between the winning countries and the most highlighted sports, but not in all cases. For instance, basketball is one of the most popular games in the USA and the American, Australian and Spanish teams won the medals in that game. That may be why basketball was the second most highlighted sport in the EU-US region. Similarly, both Egypt and Algeria won medals in judo, which may have boosted its coverage in the Arabic world. Also, football (soccer) is the most popular game throughout Latin America, and both Argentina and Brazil won medals in that game, which may have pushed its coverage up to second place on front pages coming from that region.

Still, no African nation won medals in beach volleyball or gymnastics, yet the two sports were the highlighted in front page images coming from Africa. Even the two African nations participating in the beach volleyball competitions (South Africa and Angola) did not make it beyond the preliminary matches.

Chart 2.5

Most of the regional results about the most highlighted stories in the headlines and leads of the front pages correlated with the regional results of the most highlighted images. Therefore, no separate analysis was presented.

How did the newspapers cover the athletes?