The media has often been regarded as the “Fourth Estate” in the context of legitimacy and democracy (Dabir-Moghadam & Raeesi, 2019). Media provides diverse resources that can be used as a source of information without forgetting the influence of media exposure on the attitudes and intentions of people, which also develops and shapes their points of view on some social issues. Language exists in media as a form of social practice in that the shared texts build meanings and consequently change the readers’ minds. Based on the description above, media discourses and texts considerably influence minds. The people in power can reproduce or enforce ideologies besides reinforcing the power structures to produce their desired outcomes. As a social domain or institution, the media provides a powerful tool for conveying ideologies as language becomes an instrument of social force. The language and texts used in media can therefore be considered to establish, strengthen, manage, and direct the opinions of the public.
The instrumental and role-shaping function ascribed to language is liable to critical analysis. The discourse analyses mostly focus on assessing the ideologies and biases presented through language or keeping societal power relations in check. According to Fairclough (2002), studying the language used in media provides avenues for describing and interpreting representations besides explaining the forms of processes, structures, and relations which affect the individuals concerned with the discourse. The description above brings out the essence of critical discourse analysis, which entails the study of language to provide insights into how it shapes reality. Discourses are understood based on perception, framing, and interpreting the world where the legitimation of the power relationships occurs (O’Regan & Betzel, 2015). This essay addresses the sport-media theory through critical discourse analysis. This essay focuses on two articles by political figures referencing the events that occur in sports between 2021 and 2023. By focusing on these two articles, this essay sought to answer the question: How are ideologies and power relations replicated and strengthened in sports media? In answering the question posed above, this essay will cover the influence of sports media on the ideologies and dominant discourses of the different groups concerned.
Part 1 CDA of the “NO REGRETS” Article
The recent developments in the analysis of sport-media dynamics have focused on racism and ethnicity-related factors (Bradley, 2015). The growth in sectarianism in sport-media remains one of the under-developed critical discourse analyses in sport-media theory. The analysis and interpretation of texts relating to Scottish football with a bearing on sectarianism are important, considering the persistent lack of sensitivity in political, cultural, and social contexts in Scottish sports that characterized the crippling ambiguity detailed by McGeechan (2020). Based on the description provided above, the rhetorical devices used in the analysis in this essay either reinforce or challenge the meaning tied to sectarianism in football in relation to the press reporting on the comments made by Humza Yousaf, who was then the Justice Secretary in Scotland. The discourse analysis provided here, therefore, captures the appropriate circumstances on how the comments of the Justice Secretary resonated with the Rangers fans in Scottish football as part of shedding light on the ideologically laden comments.
Figure 1 Article 1. Source ((Watson, 2023))
In analyzing sectarianism in the “No Regrets” article published in 2023 by The Scottish Sun, the consequences of prevailing strains in football were present in which Protestants are associated with the support of Rangers and Celtic supporters are associated with the Catholic faith. In this aspect, sectarianism is developed as an outcome of a symbolic labelling process that defines and maintains the divisions within the community. In the “No Regrets” article, HUMZA Yousaf retweeted a tweet by the Scottish police regarding the Ranges fans celebrating their title win with chants of “f*** the Pope” (Watson, 2023). The comments made by HUMZA Yousaf on the incident confirmed the longstanding and powerful ideological conception of sectarianism within the sport-media with a potentially latent power-laden trajectory. The power dynamics came into play when the then Justice Secretary stated that
“I have also been made aware of this clip, if (and I stress if) this clip is genuine then any player or staff member found to be guilty of anti-Catholic hatred should be shown the door by the Club.It is right Police Scot investigate & determine the facts around it” (Watson, 202In this case, the
The tweet by HUMZA Yoase was considered to illuminate the construction of messages in a manner that supported a particular interpretation of the events that had unfolded. The actions of HUMZA Yousaf, in this case, had already provided a pre-judgement to the incident even before the police held investigations on the matter to ascertain the wrongdoing by the Rangers fans celebrating their title success. In this case, the ideology of HUMZA Yousaf on the matter could not be submerged as it reinforced the power dynamics that reproduce the desired ideologies that support Catholics in a manner that could have directed public opinion against the celebrating fans (Bradley, 2015). The discussion provided above could be interpreted based on the suggestions of Willis (2014; 127), who indicated that:
“Even if ideology cannot totally submerge itself as common sense, it can at least forward plausible suggestions for the reinterpretation of events. Ideology can never afford to let contradictory interpretations of reality go free from at least a crippling ambiguity.”
In this case, it is apparent that even though the comments made by HUMZA Yousaf were based on his personal view and ideology, they provided some plausible suggestions on how to re-interpret the events that have characterized the association of Protestants and Catholics to the support of Rangers and Celtics sports clubs in Scottish football. The potential outcomes of the events contradicted the interpretation of the reality where the causality in relation to the club’s support as a way to poke a jibe at the rival Celtics fans was foregone. The potential for prejudice in the investigations into the incident, therefore, increased considering the position of power that HUMZA Yousaf held at the time as the Scottish justice secretary. The ever-present power relations in Scottish football characterized the contextual sensitivity towards the comments, which presented the judgment that should be presented even though investigations were not concluded, with the police finally concluding that no wrongdoing was found in the “f*** the Pope” chants in title celebration of the Gers fans.
HUMZA Yousaf, in this case, supported his comments based on his position as the Justice Secretary. He stated that:
“I do have to remind you, of course, it was members of the press, quite rightly, who asked me my opinion on that matter and I caveated it appropriately by saying it should be investigated. It was investigated” (Watson, 2023).
Indeed he indicated that the police should investigate the issue, but it is important to note that he had rushed his verdict. In this case, the perception that the anti-Catholic chants were detrimental to religious diversity in Scotland was not the case, as these chants had roots in the Old Firm discourse between the Rangers and Celtic fans (Idham, Subramaniam, and Aljangawi 2022). The outcomes presented above characterize the symbolic labelling process that characterized sectarianism in the text in that it was important to understand the basis of the chants. Symbolic labelling is an issue that characterizes the fans of both Rangers and Celtic fans in Scottish football, which informs the position of both clubs in the sectarian narrative. Justification for discrimination appears in this context backed by the practices and culture of the clubs. According to Kelly (2011), the Celtic club is referenced as sectarian based on its Irish-Catholic links, while the Rangers fans labelling as anti-Catholic coming from the Unionist-Protestant links. The justification for discrimination among the Gers fans is more elaborate, considering that the club did not employ Catholics until 1989 compared to Celtic, which was more open to employment. The aftermath of the HUMZA Yousaf comments on the title celebrations of the Gers fans re-opened the debate on the affirmation of the long-standing sectarianism where the apportioned blame should go both ways and not unilaterally to the Gers fans who chanted “f*** the Pope” (Watson, 2023).
In the scene referenced above, the media failed to provide the right contextualization to the matter following the comments of HUMZA Yousaf highlighting the major flaw in sports media, especially referencing the direction which the sectarianism debate holds in relation to the ideologies of the Rangers and Celtics football clubs. The version of sectarianism presented in Scotland is rather culturally naïve which high proportions of institutionalization in that it has manifested and become legitimate regarding how it is revealed (Bradley, 2015). The rules regarding how the issue is covered are, therefore, different in that it rules other ways of addressing the issue and the knowledge about it. HUMZA Yousaf’s comments before investigations into the matter concluded provided the perception that he supported a verdict of the events favouring the Celtic fans, where Celtic was considered to have strong Irish-Catholic links as opposed to Rangers with the Unionist-Protestant links (Wilson & Stapleton, 2016). The “Old Firm” dualism constructs a powerful ideological imperative highlighting the persistence of equal culpability where the masses are aware of the nuances to the same extent as the media. In this case, the texts and language used by the press strongly influence how the masses interpret them and how the issues captured apply to them in the social world.
The use of the chants by the Gers supporters to insinuate anti-Catholic sentiments is a crippling ambiguity that shapes the prejudice associated with sectarianism in Scotland. It allows it to characterize the power dynamics in describing the protestant/catholic prejudice. The legitimate discussion on sectarianism should therefore be based on facts rather than making comments about matters which have not been investigated, which is perceived to shift the power towards the Irish-Catholic links which resonated with the Celtic fans at the expense of the Rangers fans. It was, therefore, important to note that the anti-Catholic chants by the Gers fans were tolerated in Scotland and were not a song aimed to perpetuate sectarianism. Through the years, such divisions have existed. They are the basis of the Old Firm rivalry between the Rangers and the Celtic fans in that the governmental authorities and Scottish football did not intervene (Bell, Somerville and Hargie, 2020). In this case, the intervention of HUMZA Yousaf was therefore perceived as merely aimed at providing an interpretation that could favour Catholics at the expense of the Protestants and the relations of these standpoints to the ideal of Celtics and Rangers sports clubs.
Part 2 CDA of ‘Johnson And Patel Accused Of Hypocrisy Over Racist Abuse Of England Footballers’ Article
The role of information in the society we live in remains significant. Language significantly influences beliefs, views, and lives as it is designed to meet the different requirements within society (Back & Mills, 2021). Following a period where football in the UK was characterized by whiteness, a series of campaigns have been designed to change the narrative and tackle the problem of racism in top-flight football. A large number of racism incidents have occurred in English football as more and more black players have come out and stood against racism (Lalani & Zafar, 2022). Racism in the English football culture has permeated the political arena, with the UK government stepping its efforts to aid in overcoming the problem of racism. It is, therefore, important to understand how the ideologies and power relations are replicated and strengthened in sports media concerning the incidences of racism.
One of the most high-profile incidents of racism occurred during the 2020 UEFA Euro Football Championship, where the Black England players received racial abuse. After the heightened online racial abuse targeting the Black players in the English national team, some prominent figures pledged their solidarity with the abused players were political figures, including London’s Metropolitan Police. This discourse analysis focuses on the comments of Home Secretary Priti Patel, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Tory MP Natalie Elphicke following the racial abuse directed at the Black English players during the 2020 UEFA Euro (Mason, 2021). The rhetorical devices employed in this case highlight instances where the comments made by these two political figures reinforced or challenged racism in football within the UK.
In analyzing the ideological messaging related to racism, this essay focused on the article ‘Johnson and Patel accused of hypocrisy over racist abuse of England footballers’ published by the Guardian (Mason, 2021).
Figure 2 Media Text 2: Source ((Mason, 2021))
The article presents the backlash of the people in the UK after the comments made by Johnson and Patel standing in solidarity with the black players that received online racial abuse following the tournament. After the racial abuse directed at the Black England players, Rashford, Sancho and Saka, who missed penalties, Patel tweeted that ”
“Disgusted that England players who have given so much for our country this summer have been subject to vile racist abuse on social media. It has no place in our country and I back the police to hold those responsible accountable” (Mason, 2021).
The tweet indicated that Patel directly got behind the team in rebuking the racial chants. This was not the case, as a hint of hypocrisy was evident in the statement as she had rebuked the previous campaigns by the players to promote racial diversity in football, such as taking a knee. Patel had initially labelled taking the knee as a “gesture of politics” and labeled booing of black players as a “choice” of the fans and nothing serious. These initial sentiments made by Patel propagated the racism incidences against black players in football, indicating that before the 2020 UEFA Euro Football Championship, she did not support anti-racism in football (Mason, 2021). The discussion above confirms the suggestions of Dixon, Lowes, and Gibbons (2016) that the hypocrisy of high-profile political figures was a stumbling block in anti-racism campaigns. When the political figures misinterpreted these anti-racism campaigns, they strongly influenced how the masses perceived their actions and involvement in online racism. These outcomes pave the way for the propagation and continuance of the racist culture in the UK football, where the whites perceive that prejudice is no longer a factor in that the difference between participation and equality becomes blurred (Spencer, 2004). By discrediting the earlier advances in supporting equality in football as “gesture politics,” her comments after the 2020 UEFA Euro Football Championship were interpreted to provide little resolve on the issue of racism. The incident above and the comments and language used by Patel sum up the inability of the UK government to condemn racism, especially for the players who took a knee to support racial equality in football.
Moving to the second political figure Boris Johnson, he tweeted the following after the online racism incidents targeting the Black English players in the 2020 UEFA Euro Football Championship:
“This England team deserve to be lauded as heroes, not racially abused on social media. Those responsible for this appalling abuse should be ashamed of themselves.”
In the tweet referenced above, it could be thought that Boris Johnson solely stood by the players who received racial abuse. But his condemnation of racism after the racial incident was considered hypocritical, as he was considered to provide a modest response to “feel ashamed of themselves” to those who racially abused the black players. The soft stance on racism by the Prime minister indicates that the issue stumbling blocks to overcoming racism in football start from the top. These outcomes typify the findings of Penfold and Cleland (2022) that the government did not support zero tolerance for racism in sports. Another political figure, Natalie Elphicke, was more blatant in her response to the racial abuse directed at the Black English players who participated in the tournament. She tweeted:
“They lost – would it be ungenerous to suggest Rashford should have spent more time perfecting his game and less time playing politics?”
Her comments, as referenced above, provided a clear displeasure in supporting anti-racism by sneering at the inspirational player, which is perceived as a rash reaction. Through her words, she validated the racism targeted at the black English players indicating that they had not put in enough effort to improve their performance, hence warranted the abuse they received (Knight, 202In this case, the language used by Elphase normalized the online racial abuse directed towards the Black English players. The outcomes above highlight inadequate support from the political figures hence the UK government in preventing racism in football. These outcomes contradict the comments by some political figures standing by the black English players to condemn the online racism they received. Some of these political figures (Natalie Elphicke) directly implied tolerance for the racism towards the Black English players from the white majority in the UK.
Critical discourse analysis provides an important avenue for critiquing mainstream media articles relating to sports. This essay assesses media reports through critical discourse analysis while focusing on sectarianism and racism as some of the ideological messaging covered. In the critical analysis of the first article, “No Regrets,” sectarianism framing was captured in how the Scottish press framed the comments of Humza Yousaf. The analysis presented indicated that the sports media failed to provide the required level of sensitivity to addressing the sectarianism issue, which resonated from the Rangers fans signing anti-Catholic chants. This analysis indicated that the sectarianism of this form was tolerated in Scotland and had a long-standing bearing on the Old Firm rivalry between the Rangers and Celtic fans. Therefore, the intervention of Humza Yousaf sought to interpret the events in a non-tolerated context where these chants could be perceived to undermine religious diversity in Scotland. The police investigation and findings of no wrongdoing indicate that this form of anti-Catholic chants was accepted in Scottish football.
The second analysis focused on the incidences of racism in football in the UK and the comments of political figures on the racial abuse received by Black Players. The abovementioned cases present the politics of belonging nation and race in sports. The critical assessment provides a basis for understanding the position of black footballers in the English team with what is regarded as Englishness. The first national belongings of the black players are reinforced in how the political figures speak about the incidences of racism and their actions to condemn racism to provide an environment of zero tolerance. Even though the comments made by Johnson and Patel seemed to stand in solidarity with the black players who were abused for missing penalties, their stances did not strongly reject racism.
Back, L. and Mills, K., 2021. ‘When you score you’re English, when you miss you’re Black’: Euro 2020 and the racial politics of a penalty shoot-out. Soundings, 79(79), pp.110-121.
Bell, J., Somerville, I. & Hargie, O. (2020). The structuration of a sporting, social system? Northern Ireland fans, Football for All, and the creation of the Green and White Army. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 55(7), pp.975–990.
Bradley, J.M., (2015). Sectarianism, anti-sectarianism and Scottish football. Sport in Society, 18(5), pp.588–603.
Dabir-Moghadam, M. and Raeesi, H., 2019. A critical discourse analysis of Iranian sports media: A case study. International Journal of Applied Linguistics and English Literature, 8(3), pp.84-92.
Dixon, K., Lowes, J. and Gibbons, T., (2016). Show Racism The Red Card: Potential barriers to effectively implementing the anti-racist message. Soccer & Society, 17(1), pp.140–154.
Fairclough, N., (2002). Language in the new capitalism. Discourse & Society, 13(2), 163–166.
Idham, S.Y., Subramaniam, I. and Aljangawi, R.S.M., 2022. Critical Discourse Analysis of Sectarianism in Congregational Speeches: A Literature Review. Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences Studies, 4(1), pp.172-177.
Kelly, J., (2011). ‘Sectarianism’and Scottish football: Critical reflections on dominant discourse and press commentary. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 46(4), pp.418–435.
Knight, B. (2021). Boris Johnson’s condemnation of racism in football is hypocrisy, Football | Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera. Available at: https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2021/7/13/boris-johnsons-condemnation-of-racism-in-football-is-hypocrisy (Accessed: April 29, 2023).
Lalani, F. and Zafar, H. (2022). Racial abuse of England players exposes deep societal fractures and the need for change, World Economic Forum. Available at: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/07/racial-abuse-of-england-players-exposes-deep-societal-fractures-and-the-need-for-change/ (Accessed: April 29, 2023).
Mason, R. (2021). Johnson and Patel accused of hypocrisy over racist abuse of England footballers, The Guardian. Guardian News and Media. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/jul/12/tory-mp-sorry-jibe-marcus-rashford-euros-penalty-miss (Accessed: April 29, 2023).
McGeechan, G.J. (2020). Scotland’s continued ‘shame’: Sectarianism in the 21st century and the role of computer-mediated communication. BPS North of England Bulletin, pp.36–40.
O’Regan, J.P. and Betzel, A., 2015. Critical discourse analysis: A sample study of extremism. Research methods in intercultural communication: A practical guide, pp.281-296.
Penfold, C. and Cleland, J., (2022). Kicking It Out? Football Fans’ Views of Anti-Racism Initiatives in English Football. Journal of Sport and Social Issues, 46(2), pp.176–198.
Spencer, N.E., (2004). Sister Act VI: Venus and Serena Williams at Indian Wells: “Sincere fictions” and white racism. Journal of Sport and Social Issues, 28(2), pp.115–135.
Watson, R. (2023). Humza Yousaf says he ‘doesn’t regret’ controversial tweet about Rangers, The Scottish Sun. The Scottish Sun. Available at: https://www.thescottishsun.co.uk/news/10350987/humza-yousaf-doesnt-regret-controversial-rangers-tweet/ (Accessed: April 29, 2023).
Willis, P., (2014). Women in sport in ideology. In Sport, Culture, and Ideology (RLE Sports Studies) (pp. 117–135). Routledge.
Wilson, J. and Stapleton, K., (2016). Identity Categories in Use: Britishness, Devolution, and the Ulster-Scots Identity in Northern Ireland. In Devolution and Identity (pp. 21–42). Routledge.