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<Media HealthKapittel 7 av 12

6. Dealing with Doping: Representations of Morality and Health in a “Forgotten” Case

Anders Graver Knudsen is Associate Professor at the department of Journalism and Media Studies, Oslo Metropolitan University. His field of research includes marginalization and minorities in the media, sports journalism and freelance journalism.

This chapter investigates narrative representations used by sports journalists when reporting on individual doping cases. Referring to empirical data from the coverage of a doping case against a female weightlifter of minority background, it analyzes how narratives are constructed by applying master plots and constructing roles for the characters involved. Cases of doping in sports are conventionally covered in moralizing media narratives where judgements are made on personal integrity. There is often a clear role for the character in the stories, with the athlete represented as “the villain”. However, sometimes the narratives can deviate from the moral discourse, for instance when the athlete’s explanation is connected to health issues, illness or medication.

Keywords: Narrative analysis, Sports journalism, Doping, Master plots, Narrative roles

1 Introduction

This chapter will investigate what was described as the “forgotten” doping case by a Norwegian journalist (Welhaven, 2017, p. 5). In 2016, weightlifter Ruth Kasirye tested positive for the heart medicine Meldonium (a medicine that improves blood circulation) after being hospitalized with malaria when visiting her family in Uganda. She claimed innocence, blaming the positive doping test on the treatment of her illness. She admitted that she did not check the medicines she was administered for forbidden substances.

Norwegian sports were also involved in another doping case that year. While Kasirye received relatively minor media attention, Olympic and World champion Therese Johaug, a Norwegian cross-country skiing star and media icon, caused great upheaval and a media frenzy when she tested positive after using a lip cream containing anabolic steroids to cure a sore lip. A previous analysis of the doping case against Johaug (Haugen, 2017) shows that doping cases involving skiing icons touch upon national identity and can cause national “trauma” in Norway.

However, whereas the blonde-haired and blue-eyed Johaug represents Norway’s national sport and is one of the nation’s most popular athletes, the relatively unknown Kasirye represents the marginal sport of weightlifting, a sport that has been plagued by doping cases for a long period of time. She is also a migrant from Uganda, and she is black. This can seemingly indicate exclusion and marginalization on a number of social categories on Kasirye’s behalf. When journalists narrate the story about Kasirye, the Johaug case becomes an important reference and basis for comparison.

The individual athlete is usually the focal point in media representations of doping in sports (Hardie, 2015). The media tend to blame and condemn those who are suspected or accused in doping cases in a discourse where judgements are made on personal integrity. Conventionally, there is a distinct role for the main character in these narratives, with the athlete represented as “the villain” and a threat to the common good (Critcher, 2014). However, sometimes the narratives can deviate from the moral discourse, for instance when the athlete’s explanation is connected to health issues, illness or medication, as in the cases of Kasirye and Johaug. Health in the form of medication is a pivotal issue in many doping cases. Strict anti-doping legislation can be a challenge when athletes get sick, and medications for normal illnesses are prohibited for athletes. Blaming a positive doping test on medical treatment is commonly used both as an explanation and an excuse by those caught. Finally, there is also a nationalistic element in play: a nation’s own athletes are often regarded as more “innocent” than foreign athletes accused of doping (Dahlén, 2008).

This case study will analyze the coverage of Kasirye’s doping case using a comparative approach with empirical data from the national newspaper VG and the local newspaper Tønsbergs Blad. The chapter poses the question:

How does Norwegian sports journalism narrate and construct roles in stories about doping cases in which a national sporting hero is involved?

Drawing on Roksvold and Alnæs’s (2015) work on individuals in narrative and narrative argumentation, I will analyze to what degree the narratives focus on either moral or medical aspects of doping, and how they reveal norms and ideologies by applying master plots when telling the story of Kasirye’s case.

2 Aspects of moral and health in doping

To answer how doping cases in sports are constructed through mediated narratives, the underlying ideological reasons for these constructions become important. The link between the moral aspects of doping and doping as a health-related issue lies in the roots of anti-doping legislation and the reasons for its emergence.

2.1 Moral

To understand the moral upheaval that doping creates, two strains in the development of modern sports become important. The first is when modern sports as we know them today, with standardized rules, national and international organizational bodies, emerged towards the end of the nineteenth century (Collins, 2013). In the English educational system, the idea of amateurism and “Muscular Christianity” was grounded in a belief that sports should not be played for material reward and that “fair play” should govern the conduct of the games. This emerged as a direct response to the influence working classes had on sports. Amateurism was used as a tool for moral control, reflecting the attitudes of the upper and middle classes to keep sports “clean” and “fair” (McCombs, 2004). The Victorian ideals were soon adopted by the emerging Olympic movement, which banned professional athletes from participating (Horne & Whannel, 2016). The English amateur ideal also had a strong influence on the moral codes of Norwegian sports with emphasis on fair competition, a clean and natural (not excessive) lifestyle and with transfer value to public health (Goksøyr, 2013). The idea of sports as a mass movement connected to public health still remains strong in Norway, with cross-country skiing as perhaps a prime example. These ideals of amateurism form the basis of the moral code that surrounds elite sports today and are the fundaments for anti-doping legislations.

Secondly, the ideological struggle of the Cold War also played out on the fields of sports. After the Second World War, Soviet Union entered the Western sporting world and joined international sporting federations such as FIFA, IAAF and IOC. The success of USSR and other Eastern communist states in world sports was met with shock and disbelief from the early 1950s, and the Olympics soon became the most important international stage to fight for athletic and ideological superiority (Collins, 2013). Based on a belief that success in sports reflected a successful society, Western dominance in sports had been taken for granted. This belief was also symbolic of an underlying cultural confidence and Western control of the global sports system (Girginov, 1998).

As a response to the success of the Soviet bloc, from the 1960s the finger was pointed at performance-enhancing drugs. This eventually reshaped the moral landscape of modern sports, where the old moral code of amateurism was replaced with drugs as the “evil other” to the alleged purity of sports (Collins, 2013, p. 102).

2.2 Health

Doping also has a long history of being perceived as a health issue. The growing importance of sports between the two World Wars led to the emergence of “sport science” in Europe and America, in which vitamins, hormones, amphetamines and other chemicals were investigated and tested for their performance-enhancing abilities (Dimeo, 2008). The Soviet bloc was thus just one aspect in a greater shift towards increased use of science and technology to achieve results in sports. For example, in Kasirye’s sport, weightlifting, there were experiments with anabolic steroids by both American and Russian athletes in the early 1950s (Collins, 2013, p. 103).

In this period, it was still disputed if drug taking in sports was unacceptable and there was no coherent anti-doping moralizing, testing or law against drug use in sports (Dimeo, 2008, p. 87). On the other hand, there was a wider concern about medical and recreational drug use in society. This eventually gave way to a new paradigm in which drugs were perceived as something to be feared and regulated (Dimeo, 2008, p. 88). During the Winter Olympics in Oslo in 1952, delegates at an international conference on health and sports raised the question of doping as a health issue for the first time. One of the delegates claimed that national prestige was pressuring athletes into unhealthy practices, linking this to intense competitiveness, the glorification of the athlete and the commercialization of sports (Dimeo, 2008, p. 90). Thus, this was seen as part of a larger problem in sports where athletes would turn to risky strategies like drug use for achievement. When the rationale for anti-doping was constructed in the 1960s, it was the use of drugs, and worries about the wider social abuse of drugs, that was seen as the real culprit.

When doping is discussed in terms of health today, emphasis is on potential danger and individual responsibility. The strict liability under the WADA code places all responsibility on the individual athlete for everything that enters the body (World Anti-Doping Agency, n.d.). The rationale behind this structural approach is to show vigour and commitment in the anti-doping work, and to “clean up” the sports, but it does not necessarily function according to its intentions (Møller, 2016). The argument from WADA is that deviation from the principles of strict liability would in practice mean the athletes are provided with a free pass to dope, enabling them to blame doctors, team officials, other authorities or accidents for positive doping tests. The rules are, however, a challenge for athletes when it comes to curing illness. Medication that is in widespread use for normal illnesses (nasal spray, for instance) are on the prohibited list because they can be performance enhancing.

There are also grey areas between the legal and illegal use of medication. The Norwegian skier Martin Johnsrud Sundby was caught and suspended for illegal use of asthma medicine (he has been asthmatic since childhood). Following his suspension the Norwegian media were unusually critical towards the practices of high usage of medication within the national skiing team. Stories about medicines and inhalators “floating” around in the national team’s ski-prepping bus emerged and the use of asthma medication was described as both hidden and on the edge of the law (Johannessen, Rafoss & Rasmussen, 2018, p. 211).

3 Narrative characters in sports journalism

Linguistically, sports journalism appeals to emotions and uses exaggeration and metaphors. Sport is entertainment, and in entertainment, emotions are important (Roksvold 2012, p. 106). Ideologically, a liberalistic worldview and individualistic values are strongly represented; you are responsible for your own success. However, the narratives are also about a functioning community; you stand together as a team. This refers to more collectivistic values. These values can be seen as opposing each other, but the narratives tend to emphasize success, and a focus on the champion (and thereby elite sports and the biggest sports stars) becomes more dominant (Boyle, 2006; Roksvold, 2012). These values are implied in many sports narratives, but seldom explicitly stated or discussed.

Narrative theory emphasizes the relation between actions and character, and actions as revelations of character (Abbott, 2012). Sports journalism functions within the sports star system (the symbiosis of the media industry and the elite sports industry for attention and revenue), and sets up a range of characters, such as the “hero”, “fool”, “scapegoat” and “villain”, in order to play out narratives (Whannel, 1992; Boyle & Haynes, 2009), with some more consistent than others. These characteristics are connected to the athlete’s achievements both on and off the field (Lines, 2001). The sports star system reflects that actions and character are inseparable, and Dahlén (2008) describes how this system is marked by an instability that can quickly change the narrative characterizations of a sport star. Sport stars represent a certain form of excellence and authority, and the public (media/audience) express their esteem and love when their heroes prove this through excelling in competition. However, this “love relation” can quickly turn to disappointment and contempt if the high expectations and ideals are not fulfilled (Dahlén, 2008, p. 390). Sometimes there is a duality in the narratives, where sports stars can be represented with more than one character at the same time. At the height of his career, the English footballer Paul “Gazza” Gascoigne was both the “hero” on the field and the “fool” in private life (Lines, 2001).

Professional athletes and other personalities within sports are often accustomed to a certain degree of media exposure, both negative and positive. The individual media exposure is often positive for their careers, and for some the worst that can happen is not getting any media attention at all (Duckert & Karlsen, 2017, p. 139). The rapid changes in individual narratives – for example, from being narrated as a hero to becoming a scapegoat – put additional pressure on the athletes. However, this also has positive aspects: negative publicity can quickly turn positive again, especially if the athlete performs well on the field (Duckert & Karlsen, 2017, p. 145).

Doping cases in particular can lead to exclusion from the “sporting family” and leave the athlete quite alone in the situation, without the supporting apparatus by which she or he are used to be surrounded. The consequences might be severe, not only in loss of personal integrity, dignity and reputation, but also in terms of losing sponsors and other sources of income (Duckert & Karlsen, 2017).

4 Method and empirical material

Journalistic narratives are often constructed in recognizable patterns, also called master plots (Tobias, 1999; Alnæs, 2015). Master plots are stereotypical patterns of actions that appear repeatedly in different texts. Such plots can be used in any kind of narrative, including news stories, and are a technique for taking the individual details of any given story and developing the plot/narration in a certain direction. Plots can be useful when we set different journalistic narratives up against each other (Alnæs, 2015, p. 57). The plots are not always clearly visible, and different plots can be present within the same narrative, but the plots make the narrative recognizable and easier to comprehend for the reader (Alnæs, 2015, p. 60). Different plots have different characteristics, and there is a debate on how many master plots actually exist (Tobias, 1999; Cawelti, 1976). Based on Tobias (1999), I have identified three different master plots used in the articles analyzed:

The riddle: The core of the plot is cleverness, hiding that which is in plain sight. The conflict is tension between what has happened as opposed to what seems to have happened, and the answer to the riddle is often in plain view without being obvious to the reader. The riddle also challenges the reader to solve the riddle before the protagonist does.

The quest: Is about a search for a person, place or thing because of a motivating incident that initiates the search. There is a close parallel between the protagonist’s intent and motivation and the object she is trying to find. The search often includes helpful characters and the protagonist is in the process of changing during the course of the story.

The underdog: The source of the conflict comes as a result of an irresistible force meeting an immovable object, and is a struggle for power between the protagonist and the antagonist. The antagonist, which may be a person, place or thing (for instance bureaucracy), has greater power than the protagonist. The underdog usually overcomes her opposition and restores order for herself and her world.

Narratives also communicate norms that shape culture and social communities. Individuals portrayed in narratives perform in more or less predefined roles that can expose different values and norms at different times. Mediated narratives about sports shape these roles, and the genre of sports journalism usually reflects or recreates norms and values found within elite sports. The roles of the subject, helper, antagonist and receiver are common in journalistic narratives, and the subject is usually either a hero, a villain or a victim. Algirdas Julien Greimas’s structural actant model (Greimas & Hartvigson, 1974) is useful for analyzing the functions of the different roles appearing in the narratives, and for identifying and describing the relations between different roles typically used within the sports star system.

The different role types – the actants – operate along different axes. The project (vertical) axis expresses that the main character, the subject, wants to achieve something – the objective. The communication (upper horizontal) axis expresses that someone, the sender, has this objective. If the project succeeds, the receiver will obtain the object. On the conflict (lower horizontal) axis are those who help the subject in the project, and those that try to obstruct, namely the antagonists.

Figure 1

Greimas’s actant model.

I have chosen to analyze the print version of the articles. Online news articles are restricted by the format of standardized news webpages, while the layout in print gives the editors more freedom to develop a multimodal narrative. I will include images and layout in the analysis when they are relevant for the narrative representations.

4.1 Text sample

From the first press release in April 2016 about Kasirye’s positive doping test to April 2018, the search words “Kasirye” and “doping” give 182 hits for Norwegian online and print media in the media archive database Retriever1 (compared to over 5000 hits for “Johaug” and “doping”). One hundred and forty-one articles are published online and 41 in print newspapers. Ruth Kasirye was relatively unknown to a national audience before the doping case. However, many sporting heroes have strong local support and are well known in their local communities. It is therefore interesting to analyze differences and similarities in the way national news media and a local newspaper narrates this story. Norway biggest tabloid newspaper VG has the most extensive coverage with 31 stories in total (online and print). Ruth Kasirye lives in the small city of Tønsberg to the south-west of Oslo and represents the sport club IK Tønsberg-Kameratene. The city’s local newspaper, Tønsbergs Blad, published 11 stories about Kasirye during this period (online and print), and was the only news medium that published a story about Kasirye after her suspension. The narratives about Kasirye often include a level of comparison to Johaug and her case, and Johaug consistently functions as a reference when the journalists construct the roles and the plots in the stories about Kasirye.

I will analyze texts from the national news medium VG and Kasirye’s local newspaper Tønsbergs Blad. VG is Norway’s biggest private news publication, and the news medium with the most extensive and arguably most professional coverage of sports. As a tabloid, VG balances between entertainment and critical and investigative sports journalism. Tønsbergs Blad is a local newspaper based in the city of Tønsberg, Vestfold. It is the biggest local newspaper in its county. Local sports clubs and sport heroes have important news value for Tønsbergs Blad. In its role as a local newspaper, it also functions as a glue in the local community (Mathiesen, 2015).

5 Narrative analysis

Journalistic narratives about individual cases can develop over a period like a serial, with new episodes or events that drive the story onwards (Roksvold, 2015, p. 48). News stories about doping cases often fit this description. It may take several years from the revelation of a positive doping test, through the legal proceedings and until the athlete has served her or his suspension and perhaps tries to re-enter into sports. This is reflected in the coverage of Kasirye’s doping case. I have identified three phases in the narration of the case. Over half of the news stories (95) emerge in April 2016, when the story breaks. There are two other peaks in the coverage. One occurs in October 2016 (25) due to a syndicated news article about the possibility that Johaug will not make it to the Olympics, and Kasirye is briefly mentioned as another Norwegian athlete with a positive doping test. The last peak is in May 2017 (24 stories), when the hearings in Kasirye’s case begin in the Norwegian Confederation of Sports’ judicial court. To investigate how different roles and plots are used in different phases of the serial, articles representing the three phases are analyzed. To illustrate how different types of news media can narrate a story like this, the table below summarises the roles and plots identified in VG and Tønsbergs Blad during the three different phases:

Figure 2

Table summarizing the different roles and plots used in VG and Tønsbergs Blad during three phases in the coverage of Kasirye’s story.

5.1 Phase one: Dual roles and the Cold War revisited

The day after Kasirye’s press conference, VG published a double spread split into a main story with the title “The Meldonium mystery. Over 100 caught. Unknown effect. Kasirye appeals”, and a sub-story with the title “– It is my responsibility” (Jarlsbo & Hansen, 2016). The main story puts Kasirye’s case into a medical context by explaining that she is one in a long line of athletes that recently have been suspended after using Meldonium. The narrative tries to unravel mysteries surrounding the medication, making the plot that of the riddle (Tobias, 1999). The actors in the story are different Norwegian medical experts, who are uncertain about its performance-enhancing effects.

Meldonium is described by Anti-Doping Norway’s head of medical affairs as a medicine coming from “the Eastern Bloc” (it is manufactured in Latvia), and that Eastern European countries “have been good at hiding doping”. The word “Eastern European athletes” is also used when describing those who are using Meldonium. Many of the athletes suspended for Meldonium usage are from Russia.

The argumentation reflects the ideological battle of the Cold War. Using an anachronistic metaphor, both the source and the journalist make historical reference to Western suspicions of systematic and deliberate doping emanating from Eastern Europe (Collins, 2013). This is reinforced by the origins of the majority of athletes caught using it. The narrative also addresses the structural side of doping.

In the sub-story, the narrative focus shifts away from medication when Kasirye addresses the morality of her actions. The lead text states that she was the proud flag bearer during the opening ceremony of Beijing Olympics (also mentioned in the main story), and that she now hopes for a “mild” punishment because she did not use the banned heart medicine in a deliberate attempt to enhance performance. Relating to the WADA code, Kasirye says that it is “My responsibility to check what enters my body”, but she admits that she did not notify her coach or the weightlifter federation about the hospitalization or the medicine she was given.

The word “responsibility” is used several times in the article, and the narrative constructs a character who “was” the proud flag bearer and who belongs to the suspicious sport of weightlifting. This can indicate that she is a possible villain, but that she is not blaming others, and is ready to face the consequences. Therefore, she is also a victim of medication that was out of her control, since she was too ill to question what medicines she was administered when hospitalized in Uganda. Here we see how sporting narratives can construct dual roles (Lines, 2001).

She also receives financial support from her club IK Tønsberg-Kameratene, and the Norwegian federation of sports (NIF) state that they will cover her legal expenses as the federation has a “moral responsibility” to give legal support to the athlete in a difficult and demanding case. Using the actant model, we can suggest that Kasirye’s objective as it is represented in this article is to receive a mild punishment and maintain her career (Greimas & Hartvigson, 1974). Kasirye takes responsibility for her actions, but others also have a responsibility to offer her the help she needs in a difficult situation.

Figure 3

Kasirye at the press conference. VG 07.04.16. Facsimile reproduced in accordance with the Norwegian Copyright Act.

The multimodal elements include an image showing Kasirye sitting at a table during the press conference, microphones in front of her. She wears a short-sleeved top, displaying muscular arms. Her facial expression is open and almost a little shy, directed towards the journalists, and she is hunched down in her chair. Sitting beside her is her lawyer and one of the leaders of the club IK Tønsberg-Kameratene, looking down towards her slightly from above and sitting quite far apart from her. They have somewhat solemn expressions in their faces.

Normally at press conferences with sports personalities, the background is filled with logos and ads from sponsors. Press conferences where doping is being admitted are different. This time the background is a white, empty projection screen, giving the image a clinical feel. Even though there are three persons in the picture, Kasirye looks to be alone. In the lower right half of the spread, slightly overlapping the main picture, is an image of Kasirye carrying the Norwegian flag during the opening ceremony, her fellow Norwegian athletes marching behind her, smiling and waving to the audience. The picture has a title: “A proud moment”, and clearly connote a difference between the collective joy and the lonely woman sitting at the press conference.

The main story and the sub-story illustrate how the structural aspects of doping turn into an individualized narrative. The main story is about how the use of Meldonium is apparently widespread, but the illustration and the sub-story highlight that when things go wrong, the narratives focus almost completely on the individual athlete (Roksvold, 2015).

The local newspaper Tønsbergs Blad published a news story that focuses on morality. The headline includes a quote: “Ruth Kasirye takes full responsibility – Takes one day at the time” (Haldorsen & NTB, 2016), and the lead text follows up with another quote: “– It has been a difficult time, and many nights I can’t sleep.” The narrative includes emotions through elements of reportage when the journalist observes that Kasirye looks evidently marked by the circumstances. Even though Kasirye praises IK Tønsberg-Kameratene and the support she has received from the leaders of the club, the plot is that of a riddle. Kasirye’s actions are incomprehensible for those who are close to her. Her coach states that she been acutely ill in Uganda on previous occasions, and that he therefore warned her against travelling because she was at risk of ruining her training if she became ill again:

Unfortunately, I was right. However, if she had told me or anybody else about this, we would have done the utmost to find solutions. Then maybe this case could have been avoided (Haldorsen & NTB, 2016, p. 17).

The narrative portrays her coach and team leaders as helpers, but the quotes also indicate disapproval of her actions. If only she had told them, she would not have been in this situation. Therefore, her helper at the same time excuses her and blames her, and her actions are difficult to understand, even for those close to her. Like VG, the narrative here leaves us with the impression of a character who is both suspicious and a victim.

In the initial phase the challenge for Kasirye is the trustworthiness of her explanation, or rather her awareness of the risk she was taking when going to Uganda. The visual representation in VG is where she appears at her most vulnerable. At this stage, the number of helpers, especially in Tønsbergs Blad’s narrative, indicates that she is quite far from the stereotypical dope villain (Critcher, 2014) who is abandoned or dismissed from his or her sporting community (in the way Lance Armstrong was abandoned by almost the entire cycling community after admitting to doping in 2013, for instance).

It is worth elaborating on the fact that almost every news story in the total sample (182) mentions that Ruth Kasirye had the highly symbolic role as Norwegian flag-bearer during the opening ceremony at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. In a news article, VG describes her as “not in any way” the typical flag-bearer (Holli & Ruud, 2008). Kasirye responds to the appointment in a press release from Olympiatoppen (the Norwegian Elite Sports Initiative), quoted in the VG article:

It’s a great honour for me to carry the flag…. I feel Norwegian after 10 years in (this) country, and last time (I was) in Uganda, I almost felt like a tourist… The flag says something about who you are and where you belong. To carry the flag gives me the feeling of inclusion in a multicultural society (Holli & Ruud, 2008).

When athletes with minority background excel in their sport, they are included in the bigger “we”, and sports journalism is sometimes described as the most “colour-blind” part of news media (Fjeldstad & Lindstad, 2005). However, in VG’s narrative, Kasirye still has to prove herself as worthy of the task by stressing her respect to the flag and underpinning where she belongs. She takes on the role of the integrated migrant and emphasizes the role sports can have for inclusion. Yet, by almost denouncing her roots, this also illustrates how difficult processes of immigrant integration can be (McIntosh, 2015). Another question is how far the colour-blindness of sports journalism reaches when the athlete is caught in some sort of wrongdoing. The constant mentioning of the flagbearer fact can be interpreted as a way that draws attention to her previous symbolic role, and functions as a reminder of her betrayal of the values that this role represents.

5.2 Phase two: Suspicions and stereotypes

After the initial phase when the news about Kasirye’s positive test becomes public, her case is heard in the Norwegian Confederation of Sports’ judicial court. Over a year has passed since her positive doping test. In the intervening time, VG raises the question of whether the Kasirye case is less of a priority for Antidoping Norway because of the great public interest in Johaug’s case (Jarlsbo, 2017). This is consistent with the way Johaug functions as a constant backdrop for the journalists narrating Kasirye’s story.

Another important factor is the focus on Kasirye’s sport. VG publishes a reportage from the weightlifting arena in Rio Olympics in 2016 (Jarlsbo & Delebekk, 2016), stating that the sport is in danger of being removed from the Olympic programme, that almost all the top athletes have tested positive for doping, and “nobody” cares about the sport. Although VG is not addressing Kasirye directly, she is associated with a sport that is rife with doping allegations. Her moral ethos is challenged, and her position as a victim is harder to obtain. If found guilty, she will not be an exception, but rather the norm within her sport. Kasirye is therefore fighting a battle on two fronts – both to convince us of her own innocence, and to distance herself from the stereotypical perceptions of her sport in the media representations.

The narrative in VG’s article about the hearing centres on medical aspects of the case (Strøm, 2017). It reproduces Western stereotypes of African health systems and notably it is Kasirye herself who feeds this narrative. She portrays the Ugandan hospital as quite horrific, and says she feared that she would get her kidney stolen because “trading with human organs actually does occur in this African country”, according to the journalist’s report. The reporter’s choice of quotes indicates that Kasirye is trying to move the responsibility away from herself and to her treatment in the hospital. Challenging her responsibilities under the strict liability code, she claims she got the medicine in a plastic cup and argues that she was too ill to check what medication she was given.

The plot has the form of a quest in which Kasirye is motivated to search for means that can help her reach her goal of being acquitted (Tobias, 1999). The documentation that the Ugandan hospital has handed over to the investigation is “unclear”, and Kasirye’s lawyer criticises Antidoping Norway for not contacting the hospital to clarify the events. In the narrative, Kasirye’s character becomes suspicious when new information reveals that she has tested positive for Meldonium in a previous doping test, several months before the doping case under trial, but before the substance was made illegal. She claims the reason for this is that it is a medicine administered in Uganda to treat her malaria, but she cannot explain why she never reported this medical use to the testing authorities. There is also the big question of why she would be treated with Meldonium in the first place. It is not a medication used to treat malaria; however, this is never explained in the narrative.

The article ends with a direct quote where she frustratingly states: “– I am left with the impression that Antidoping Norway believes I went to Uganda to dope myself.” In this manner, the subject of the narrative openly points out her antagonists and interprets their opinions about her. Letting the narrative end with this cliff-hanger, the journalist allows Kasirye to position herself in terms of reaching her objective, which is to allege that her antagonists are wrong (Greimas & Hartvigson, 1974).

While VG focuses on healthcare and medical aspects through Kasirye’s explanations for the medicine she received, in its story about the hearing Tønsbergs Blad focuses on moral aspects for the athlete Kasirye and her exclusion from the sporting family (Syrstad & NTB, 2017). The lead text states that Kasirye has realized that she will never return to the world elite as a weightlifter. What is important for her now is to be acquitted of the doping accusations.

The plot is a quest: Kasirye is trying to find a way out of her ordeal (Tobias, 1999). The main source of information is an interview Kasirye has given to VG. There is no indication that the journalist from Tønsbergs Blad has been present at the hearing himself. Kasirye’s lawyer draws a direct comparison to Johaug and claims that since their actions are similar, she should be judged in the same way. Kasirye talks about the time following the doping revelation:

I will never be the same person. Life changes when you get a case like this. You also lose some of the social (life) when you can no longer be together with those you have trained with for many years (Syrstad & NTB, 2017, p. 16).

In the initial phase, Tønsbergs Blad focused on the support from her sporting family. Now Kasirye suffers from the added burden that befalls athletes caught up in wrongdoing or in breaching public morals: She is excluded from her team and her friends (Duckert & Karlsen, 2017). Hence, her narrative character is that of the victim, and she seem to lose an important part of her own identity.

Tønsbergs Blad consistently includes quotes from Kasirye in their titles, and VG is not far behind. The quotes personalize the narratives and testify to the typical individual focus when journalists report on doping cases (Lines, 2001). Kasirye comes across as a character with her own voice who can comment on the actions from her point of view. She does everything from taking responsibility and explaining her situation to looking forward to the future. She is not a passive object to be interpreted by others. The narratives portray her as an active subject that is able to explain and comment on her own experiences.

In July 2017, Kasirye receives a two-year suspension sentence from the Norwegian Confederation of Sports’ judicial court. Initially, there are plans for an appeal on Kasirye’s behalf, but these are not pursued.

5.3 Phase three: unfair treatment, and the return of the role model

In the aftermath of her sentence and two-year exclusion, Kasirye only appears a few times in news stories and commentaries. In August 2017, VG runs a story that compares Kasirye’s case to Johaug’s, with the title “Disappointed with Antidoping Norway” (Hernes & Strøm, 2017).

Kasirye’s lawyer argues that Antidoping Norway went to Livigno (where Johaug’s purchased the lip cream containing anabolic steroids) to investigate the actual events, but did not travel to nor make any attempt to get in touch with the doctors at the hospital in Uganda where Kasirye was hospitalized. Antidoping Norway’s representative answers that they do not want to go into detail about the evaluations that were conducted, but that both cases were sufficiently enlightened to make a qualified judgement. The narrative does not give any direct answers to reasons for the difference in treatment between the two athletes. Asked why it took so much longer for Kasirye to get her case settled, the head of hearings in the juridical court explains that there are “many reasons for this” without naming anything specific.

The journalist also makes a point of the relative status between the two sports, the “national sport of cross-country skiing against the tiny sport of weightlifting”. The plot hence becomes that of the underdog, where Kasirye is fighting a system that is presented as neglecting her case (Tobias, 1999). The structural dynamics of the Norwegian sport authorities are working in favour of Johaug, and consequently, Kasirye is not being prioritized. The point above reveals the journalists’ feelings towards the subject (Lines, 2001).

The story ends with facts about the two cases set up against each other in a schematic way. The facts are instantaneous and illustrate the huge difference between Kasirye and Johaug on many parameters in the form of support, attention and sentencing. Compared to Johaug, Kasirye is in a sense the forgotten and neglected one. Through the comparison, the narrative constructs Kasirye’s character as a victim, but also as an underdog who is aware of the unfair treatment and fights back.

While the written narrative is about differences, the visual presentation displays similarities. The illustration contains two pictures of equal size, side by side. Kasirye is placed on the left side, Johaug on the right. They are facing each other, with similar expressions in their faces. They have downcast eyes and look away, thus creating a distance to the viewer (Kress & Van Leuween, 2006). The visual narrative hence creates a contrast to the written one; here they are both in despair, while the text tells us that Johaug is the “winner”. By visually rendering them equal in size and appearance, VG underpins that Johaug also suffered, that they are both victims, and that therefore they should have been treated equally.

As a temporary ending to the serial of Kasirye’s doping case, a story emerges in Tønsbergs Blad, with the title “Back after the doping judgement” (Svendsen, 2018). The plot is that of the underdog: Kasirye has risen from the ashes, returned to the sporting arena, and is going to prove herself once again (Tobias, 1999). The narrative describes how Kasirye is welcomed back into her club. The lead text explains that after two years on the sidelines, Kasirye is again wearing the club’s colours and has become the instructor for the club’s weightlifting school.

Figure 4

Comparison of Kasirye and Johaug. VG 25.08.17. Facsimile reproduced in accordance with the Norwegian Copyright Act.

When asked about how it will be to compete again, she answers that she is nervous. However, her first competition will be a team tournament, and that makes it a little safer, highlighting the importance of being back with friends and helpers (Duckert & Karlsen, 2018). The journalist mentions the flag-bearer fact and that she has become a mother. The narrative rebuilds her ethos as an athlete, describing that she trains very hard six times a week, and has an ambition to be back in the elite from the following year.

Under the subtitle “Gives back”, the narrative assigns Kasirye the character of a role model and hero. Together with 17-year-old Daniel Solberg, she will be instructor at the club’s weightlifter school twice a week. The school invites people of all ages who are curious about the sport. Kasirye is clear on why she does this:

I feel I want to give something back to my club, and at the same time this is a great opportunity to recruit more people to the sport (Svendsen, 2018, p. 16).

This quote is highlighted in the layout. The narrative is not just building up Kasirye again. It is also trying to give a moral lift to the sport of weightlifting. This is not a sport for cheaters; it is suitable for both young and old. Solberg, who also has Kasirye as his coach, is undoubtedly satisfied: “– It is so fun that Ruth has become a trainer, and I look up to her very much”. The narrative ends with Solberg describing how enjoyable this sport is, and the feeling when you manage to hold 100 kg over your head.

The two-page spread features two images. The main illustration is an image of Kasirye and Solberg. They are both looking straight at the camera, smiling. Solberg has his arm around Kasirye, who is leaning in towards his shoulder. The two weightlifters look comfortable and relaxed. In the background, we can see a weightlift bar and other equipment on the wall. The composition positions the two subjects in direct contact with the reader; we are “face to face” and invited to engage with Kasirye (Hornmoen, 2010). In the image below the main one, Kasirye is about to lift the bar with weights, with an intense look on her face. Her head is tilted upwards and she looks very powerful. Kasirye is back where she belongs.

Figure 5

Kasirye is back in training. Tønsbergs Blad 12.10.18. Facsimile reproduced in accordance with the Norwegian Copyright Act.

6 Conclusions

Mediated narratives about doping focus on the individual, and the instability that changes the narrative characterizations of a sport star is prevalent in the Kasirye story. She is given different roles in the different phases of this serial, from the suspicious villain until – in the end – a fully restored role model and hero in her local newspaper. We also see the strength of master plots in sports journalism, where master narratives can be used on very different stories. When the narratives focus on health and the medical aspects of the case, Kasirye is represented as suspicious and a possible villain trying to shift responsibility away from herself. However, when the narrative focuses on Kasirye as a person and her response to what has befallen her, she is represented with a moral ethos, taking responsibility and fighting back against what she perceives as unfair treatment. Nationalistic elements that often characterise representations in sport journalism are also present, with the frequent mention of the “fallen flag-bearer”. VG empathises to a larger extent with the medical aspects of the case and portrays a more suspicious character than Tønsberg Blad does. In accordance with the role of a local newspaper as a glue in a local community (Mathisen, 2010), Tønsbergs Blad is more concerned with the moral aspects and portrays Kasirye as a victim.

The construction of the Kasirye character is consistently done with reference to the doping case against the national icon Therese Johaug. Kasirye is seemingly excluded or marginalized in a number of different social categories compared to Johaug. She has an ethnic minority background, she represents a marginal sport that has a poor reputation when it comes to doping, and she is rather unknown to the general audience of sport fans. The media focus is therefore quantitatively minor compared to the massive attention the case against Johaug gained.

However, Kasirye has a strong symbolic value as a woman of ethnic minority background who excels in what is often perceived to be an unfeminine sport and therefore becomes a representative for values that are increasingly celebrated in society. Hence, it can be difficult for sports journalists, who are fully aware of sports journalism’s reputation as male chauvinistic and supposedly colour-blind, to be overtly critical and suspicious towards Kasirye and her explanations (Finstad & Fjelstad, 2005). Again, this is comparable to Johaug, who through her opposite role as a national icon representing the national sport, and with an appearance that embodies the archetypical stereotype of an ethnic Norwegian, also is difficult for sports journalists to criticise (Dahlén, 2008).

Kasirye hence represents symbolic values that the sports journalists seem to both struggle with and appreciate. The mediated narratives use both moral codes and health issues to construct Kasirye as an underdog fighting the structural power enforced by very strict anti-doping legislation. The narratives can be quite sympathetic in describing her ordeals and the way she takes responsibility for her own actions. It is notable that the underlying structural criticism embedded in the narratives never supersedes the personalized focus. This leaves the question of whether in the future sports journalism needs to be more concerned with the structural issues of which doping cases like Kasirye’s are a symptom (both in terms of morality and health) and be more aware of the consequences for the individual athlete when she or he is subjected to negative media exposure.


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