Swedish-Norwegian Rivalry Behind Different Media Images of Johaug’s Doping Scandal

Swedish and Norwegian media gave different images of the Norwegian ski star Therese Johaug’s doping scandal, according to a new study published in the journal Nordicom Review. While the Norwegian media downplayed what happened, the Swedish reporting focused on the rivalry between the countries when it comes to cross-country skiing.

In 2016, the Norwegian cross-country skier Therese Johaug told that she was tested positive for doping, what followed was a period of intensive media coverage. Media researchers Ulrik Wagner (University of Southern Denmark) and Elsa Kristiansen (University of South-Eastern Norway) have reviewed hundreds of articles and compared the Swedish and Norwegian media coverage of the event.

The study shows that Norwegian media avoided calling it a doping scandal, and in several articles, Therese Johaug was described as an innocent victim. In Sweden, however, it was portrayed differently. Swedish media wrote that Johaug was guilty of doping, and that the case was part of a larger problem with doping in Norway. The newspaper Expressen was even using headlines such as “Time to ask the question – can we trust Norway?”.

The national sport threatened

In the case of scandals in sports, domestic media may want to protect the national self-image, according to Ulrik Wagner. He believes that Therese Johaug’s doping scandal struck the Norwegian self-image in two ways.

– First, the scandal damaged the cross-country skiing, which can be described as Norway’s national sport. Norwegian skiers have dominated the sport and articles on doping and overuse of asthma medications threatened to undermine Norway’s dominance.

– Secondly, the scandal damaged Norway as a role model for anti-doping. In a short time, two prominent skiers, Therese Johaug and Martin Johnsrud Sundby, tested positive and it raised questions whether Norway could really require other countries to follow a strict anti-doping policy, says Ulrik Wagner.

According to the study, there was therefore a driving force in Norwegian media to downplay what happened.

The Swedes have “little brother syndrome”

The Swedish reporting is instead explained by a rivalry between the countries. 

– Sweden always compare with the successful Norwegian cross-country skiers. One can say that the Swedish skiers have little brother syndrome, says Ulrik Wagner.

For that reason, there was a measure of revenge in the Swedish reporting of the Johaug case, especially in the evening press.

– One can imagine that it was even more intense on social media. In the future, it would be interesting to investigate how a scandal like this is portrayed there, says Ulrik Wagner

The article The Fall of the Queen of Nordic Skiing: A comparative analysis of the Swedish and Norwegian media coverage of the Therese Johaug scandal is written by Ulrik Wagner and Elsa Kristiansen and published in Nordicom Review

Read the article here