Monday, November 15, 2010

French Sports and Tourism Media

The Changing Organization of the Tour de France and its Media Coverage

by Katie Pelo

This article is an interview with Jean-Marie Leblanc, who is a former Tour de France racer and who was also the general director of the Tour de France from 1989 to 2005.

The interview begins with him explaining how the media coverage has changed over the years. He says that it has been a transition from written press to radio to now television. These were the three golden periods for the Tour de France. Before TV, there was a magic about the Tour because journalists “had only fleeting perceptions of the race or had reports told to them which were perhaps themselves already exaggerated,” so the stories became epic and romanced. With radio, there was a magic that came along with live commentary and it became very popular since there wasn’t a large supply of sports of leisure activity. With television, they showed “not only the Tour de France but also the tour of France as a country.”

Leblanc states that television has since become the most important media strategy and continues to explain how coverage and media strategies have changed. He states that with TV, the tour is not only a great sporting event, but it also can be put in the categories of tourism, culture, emotion, and international issues. He says, “we are basically – involuntarily and indirectly – great ambassadors for certain aspects of our country, notably tourism.” The Tour can now be seen worldwide in 170 countries.

The popularization of TV economically benefitted and promoted the Tour. TV became privatized and channels bought rights to exclusive pictures, which meant that they broadcasted often and showed good material. Sponsors then paid more money for cycling teams so their brand would be shown on TV. While TV had positive effects on the Tour, it forced the written press to find new angles since the viewer has now seen everything and doesn’t need to be told what happened. Leblanc thinks that journalists should know about cycling and provide an analysis, a perspective, or what a strategy would be for the next day. However, he thinks that young journalists now are lazy and choose to report “the spectacular, the emotional and scoops at any cost.” There is also an increase in interviews since viewers don’t get that from watching the race.
As the general director of the Tour, he uses certain media strategies to help journalists. He tries to make sure every day ends at around 5:30 pm so that the bikers can get rest, and the journalists have time to make their reporting deadlines. They give as much information to the media as possible as it is better to give them info than to have rumors spread. They print a story in French and English about the race each day and also do interviews which are printed out and given to all the reporters. They also give out biographies on the riders and info about the history of the Tour. This allows for all reporters to have access to information no matter where they were for the day. He continues to talk about the new arrival of Internet media, which he says can be invasive since the reporters need space and facilities in the pressroom. Internet journalists tend to be young with no experience and often spread false news stories. Also, regional newspapers are on the decline due to economic factors, with many of them having one or no reporters at the stage. In an effort to include journalists in the tour even more, the organizers have come up with the idea of letting journalists ride the race on a motorbike so they get to experience the road with the bikers.

Lastly, Leblanc discusses the media coverage of doping. He refers to 1998 a lot, which was when there was a big doping scandal at the Tour. (An assistant to one of the teams was found with large amounts of doping products, which caused police raids into bikers’ bedrooms where drugs were found. The riders staged a protest during stage 17 as a reaction to the treatment they were receiving from the Tour and the police.) Leblanc says that the Tour almost stopped after 1998, and he “accepts the intrusion of the police because at that juncture there were no other effective ways of intervening.” They are now cracking down on doping by not only looking for riders who are doping, but also pursuing the pushers and providers. He says that the amount of doping has significantly decreased due to “a bit of good sense and a lot of fear.” As a result of the scandal, the sports journalists felt “doubly-wounded” because they had been deceived by the riders and teams, and portrayed as stupid by the rest of the media because they didn’t know what was going on. Also, L’Equipe made sure that the public knew they were separate from the Tour, as they had been seen as having very close relations before.

Making Mass Vacations: Club Med

Gerard Blitz founded club Med in 1950. He was an egalitarian, sensual person, attracted to yoga, Buddhism, and a relaxed management style. Club Med “celebrated self-indulgent physical pleasures and the escape from one’s daily life and habitual social relations.” Club Med originally was a legal non-profit association, with the first one opening on the Spanish Island of Majorca. It was all-inclusive, low-cost, and vacationers stayed in U.S. army tents and slept on army tents. Vacationers were known as gentils members (GMs), and Club employees were known as gentils organisateurs (GOs). Comfort was not a main concern, but informality and liberation were always priorities. GOs were typically young, good-looking, sporty, fun loving, and had lives that were affected by the war. There was also a lot of sleeping around between the GOs and the GMs. Club Med grew in the 50s, and in 1957 it was reconstituted as a commercial organization. In 1965, Club Med opened its first ‘”hotel village”’ in Agadir, Morocco, and vacationers older and richer. Club Med claimed to be the ‘”antidote to civilization,”’ but by the late 1960s, it was a multinational company with a large role in the commercial tourism and leisure industry.

As the company grew, they wanted to capture the essence of the “antidote to civilization,” which became the espirit du club. This espirit became more planned and less spontaneous. One of the main elements of the espirit was introducing welcoming and leaving rituals to enhance the belief that Club Med villages were, “closed spaces, isolated from their surroundings and from other tourists, places where people could return to nature and discover a simpler and more ‘authentic’ way of being.” Another element of the espirit was that there were to be no recognition of social distinctions. Everyone was to be addressed by their first name, use the ‘tu’ form, and was not to discuss their jobs. As stated, “there are no social differences when everyone is in a bathing suit.” Club Med also replaced cash with colored beads to further distance its world with the outside one. The last element of the espirit was that leisure was the main goal, and everyone should be relaxed, childish, and playful. Even those who were actually working were made to appear as if they weren’t. Since there was such an emphasis on pleasure and enjoyment, Club Med became a place where many fulfilled their sexual desires. The village manager in Tahiti said, “the Club was the revenge of the beautiful on the intelligent.”

There was a new hierarchy created at Club Meds, even though they tried to be the ‘“antidote to civilization.”’ GMs tended to be white, economically advantaged Europeans and some Americans. They were also generally young and were in the middle salary sectors. Natives of Club Med locations tended to be workers and rarely were vacationers. As stated, “Club Med was, in this sense, a reconfigured colonialist adventure that could be purchased.”

Club Med was thriving during a pivotal time in French history, 1930-70, when vacations were being established as a political right. Paid vacation time became available to a much wider range of citizens, and mass vacations became very popular. Vacations became a right that people were very protective of, “leisure time and paid vacations were deeply implicated in cultural and labor politics, as well as in struggles over ideological systems, during the interwar period.” Vacations for all then became one of France’s most proud accomplishments. The article concludes with Furlough saying that vacations became more democratic and organized. They also helped to keep social privileges and entitlements.

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