Doping treatment by the media in Spain: Alberto Contador and Martha Dominguez cases

Numéro 7 | Contrôler et punir

pp. 38-49

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Rodrigo Pardo

Docteur - Grupo de Investigacion ESHAFyD – Facultad de Ciencias de la Actividad Física y del Deporte – INEF, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid



Deux sportifs espagnols parmi les plus célèbres, Alberto Contador (cycliste) et Marta Domínguez (athlète), ont été impliqués en 2010 et en 2012 dans des affaires liées au dopage. Ce texte a pour but d'analyser le traitement que les deux cas ont reçu par un journal espagnol et comment les deux sportifs en question ont pu être différemment traités selon des contraintes économiques, politiques, de présomption d'innocence, de type de sport ou encore par rapport à la question de la vie privée. On discutera également de la ligne éditoriale du journal en relation avec l'impact que ces affaires ont eu sur l'opinion publique et sur l'image internationale donnée par le sport espagnol.

Mots clés : cyclisme - athlétisme - dopage - médias - presse


Two of the most relevant Spanish sportsmen, Alberto Contador (cyclist) and Marta Domínguez (athlete), were involved since 2010 to 2012 in two cases related to doping. This text will analyze the treatment that both cases have received by a Spanish newspaper and how these two sportsmen have been different portrayed according to issues such as economics, politics, presumption of innocence, type of sport and privacy. In addition, the editorial line of the newspaper will be discussed as consequence of the public impact of both cases have and the international image portrayed by the Spanish sport.

Key Word: cycling - athletics - doping - media - newspaper


Dos de los deportistas españoles más importantes, Alberto Contador (ciclista) y Marta Domínguez (atleta), estuvieron involucrados desde 2010 a 2012 en dos casos relacionados con el dopaje. Este texto analizará el tratamiento que han recibido ambos casos por un periódico español y cómo estos dos deportistas han sido retratados de manera diferente en relación a cuestiones tales como la implicación económica, la política, la presunción de inocencia, el tipo de deporte y su vida privada. Además, la línea editorial del periódico se presenta como consecuencia de la repercusión pública que ambos casos tienen y la imagen internacional que proyectan del deporte español.

Palabras Claves : ciclismo - atletismo - dopaje - medios de comunicación - periódico


I. Introduction

At the end of 2010, two doping cases shook Spain. Two of the most relevant Spanish sportsmen at that moment, Alberto Contador (cyclist) and Marta Domínguez (athlete), were involved in two trials related to doping. Once again, Spanish sport was in doubt and media played a significant role informing public opinion about both cases. Mass media have a great influence (and responsibility) in perpetuating certain ideologies (Duncan, 1993) and the way that they portrait doping in sport can have an enormous impact in people.

Many examples of media analysis in sports have been conducted (Douglas, 2002; Duncan, 1990, 1993; Hilliard, 2005; Messner, Dunbar, & Hunt, 2005; Walton, 2001). However, the present analysis, due to its relevance and novelty may arouse certain interest in this regard.
The purpose of this paper is to compare the media coverage of a Spanish newspaper of these two doping-related cases in order to better understand how media portrays sportsmen involved in such situation, considering that both are on active and have the same nationality that the newspaper chosen for the analysis.

II. Two protagonists: Alberto Contador and Marta Domínguez

Before starting with the analysis, it is necessary to briefly explain the sports career of these two sportsmen so as to better understand the commotion that their accusations of doping use (Alberto Contador) and doping dealing (Marta Domínguez) caused in public opinion.

A. Alberto Contado

Alberto Contador is a cyclist who began his professional career in 2003. He appeared in the international scene in 2007 by winning the Tour de France.

Following his victories at the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España, he became in 2008 the first Spanish cyclist to win all three Grand Tours. His last official victory was in 2009, when he won his second Tour de France. In addition, he won the Velo d'Or, award for best racing cyclist, during three consecutive years: 2007, 2008 and 2009. After the resolution of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), he was disqualified of his victories in Tour de France 2010 and Giro d'Italia 2011.

B. Marta Domínguez

Marta Domínguez is a professional athlete that competes mostly on 3000 and 5000 m. race. She is considered the best Spanish athlete ever and her achievements include: 2002 European Indoor champion of 3000 m.; 2002 and 2006 European champion of 5000 m.; 2007 European champion of cross-country, and 2009 World Champion of 3000 m. steeplechase. In October 2009 she was named European Athlete of the Year by the European Athletic Association and she also won the Reina Sofía Spanish award for Best Sportswoman in 2009.

III. Chronology of two cases

Following, it will be point out the most relevant events that have occurred during both cases. At this point, it is necessary to note that in nature, these cases have a different base. On the one hand, Contador case was based on the finding of a doping substance (clenbuterol) in his blood after a doping control during Tour de France. On the other hand, Domínguez was involved in a police operation called Galgo Operation related to doping.

A. Alberto Contador

Table 1 summarizes the main events related to Contador case:

Table 1. Chronology of Contador case

Date Event
2010July 2st Contador receives two doping controls during Tour de France.
July 25th He wins his 3rd Tour de France.
August 24th International Cycling Union (UCI) notifies him that he has tested
positive for clenbuterol (50 picograms) and that he has a preventive
September 30th Contador announces the results of positive doping control but he defends
his innocence saying that it is due to a steak he ate during the
competition that was contaminated with clenbuterol.
November 8th UCI proposes the Spanish federation to open a disciplinary proceeding against Contador.
2011January 26th Spanish Cycling Federation (SCF) notifies Contador a proposal of
one-year suspension. If it is confirmed, he would lose his third Tour de
February 7th Contador refuses this resolution and declares himself as not guilty.
February 14th SCF finds him not guilty arguing that he did not voluntarily ingested the doping substance.
March 24th UCI presents allegations to CAS against the resolution of SCF, demanding
a suspension of two years a fine equivalent to his net income during a
March 29th The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) also appeals to CAS in the same terms.
May 29th Contador wins the Giro d'Italia.
July 24th Contador places fifth position in the Tour de France.
2012 February 6th CAS considers Contador guilty and punishes him with two-year suspension.
Consequently, he is disqualified of his victories in Tour de France
2010 and Giro d'Italia 2011. He will not be allowed to compete again
until August 12th 2012.
B. Marta Domínguez

Table 2 summarizes the main events related to Galgo Operation and Domínguez case:

Table 2. Chronology of Galgo Operation and Domínguez case

Date Event
2010 December 9th The Guardia Civil arrests 14 people (included Marta Domínguez, doctor Fuentes –also involved in another operation in 2006 against doping, Puerto Operation– and Pascua (one of the most successful athletics trainers in Spain) with the charges of crime against public health and traffic of doping substances. All of them must appear in court during the following weeks.
December 10th Domínguez is preventive suspended as vice-president of the Spanish Athletic Federation.
December 30th Domínguez appears in court and she is formally accused of three charges: crime against public health (sale and supply drugs) and crime of money laundering. She denies all charges.
2011 January 28th The judge divides the case into four different cases. One of them specifically concerns Domínguez and other sportsmen.
April 20th The judge provisionally dismisses Domínguez of the charge of illegal supply of drugs.
May 12th The judge cancels the wiretapping ordered to Dominguez during Galgo Operation. The prosecutor appeals against this decision.
July 12th Dominguez is exonerated from the charges of illegal sale and supply of drugs without prescription.
September 29th The judge finally dismisses the charge of doping against Domínguez and other two accused.
October 30th After 15 months, Domínguez returns to competition and wins a popular race in Madrid.
November 17th Domínguez is acquitted of money laundering, the last charge related to Galgo Operation. This information is published on November 23rd.
November 20th Domínguez is elected senator with the Popular Party in her natal province.
2012 March 22nd The case is closed after finding no evidences of crime, declaring the nullity of all the incriminating evidences presented and exonerating the rest of the people accused.

IV. Methodology

A. Selection of the newspaper

The newspaper selected was El País, which is the best-selling newspaper in Spain with a daily circulation in 2011 of 461,788 copies . The paper was first published on 4 May 1976, six months after the death of dictator Francisco Franco, and at the beginning of the Spanish transition to democracy. It was the first pro-democracy newspaper within a context where all the other Spanish newspapers were influenced by Franco's ideology. The paper's ideology has always been defined by a leaning towards Europeanism. Politically it is considerate a moderate left-wing newspaper.

A total of 149 issues of this newspaper were reviewed since October 1st 2010 (when it was published Contador's doping positive during Tour de France) until February 28th 2011, two weeks after the acquittal of the Spanish Cycling Federation . During the analysis of these five moths, it can be explained how both cases were portrayed, even knowing nowadays how both cases end as it was pointed out in the previous section. In addition, other reason to select this dates is because at the end of February began to appear in the newspaper the first news of Contador related with just sporting matters ; until that point, all previous news concerning both sportsmen were related with doping except four that were not included in the analysis.

B. Analysis

Due to the nature of this paper, it was combined quantitative and qualitative methods. Quantitatively oriented techniques are common used in cultural studies and mass communications research (Casetti & di Chio, 1999; Irgatua, 2006). Concretely, it was used the terms dop* , Contador and Domínguez, in order to find all the news related to doping, even those where these sportsmen were not directly related to doping. All news regarding doping appeared in the newspaper were listed following these criteria:

  • Location: place where the news were published (front page or inside the newspaper).
  • Type of article: general articles, letters to the editor, interviews, opinion pieces and others.
  • Topic: if the news talked about Contador, Domínguez, Galgo Operation (where it did not talk specifically about Domínguez) or general news about doping including other cases.

However, this method runs into limitations because it does not capture the context and reduce the data obtained to numbers and percentages (Manning & Cullum-Swan, 1998). For that reason, following the guidelines of Duncan (1993), an interpretive (qualitative) methodology has been used to provide a more complete analysis of the news. Through this method, we can have a better understanding of the texts and perform a better comparison among the different variables analyzed to better interpret the results. Nevertheless, as Duncan (1993) pointed out, this method has its limitations: "the researcher can never be absolutely certain of how a particular individual may perceive a given text because meaning is created in the interaction between the text and the reader" (p. 27).

V. Results

The results are presented in two different sections, one related to the place where news where published (quantitative), and the other related to the content of these news (qualitative).

A. Quantitative outcomes

A total of 240 news concerning doping where found in this newspaper during the 5 months of analysis. It is necessary to note that there were news related at the same time with both cases, so the sum of the articles can vary in the total figures.

It can be observed that more than half of the news appeared in the front page were related to Domínguez (9) or Galgo Operation (4). The remaining 46% was related just to Contador case, with a total of 11 news in the front page (Figure 1). It is important to note that although these data seem balanced, the length of Contador case is almost the double than Domínguez case during the period of analysis.

Figure 1. News in the frontpage


Regarding the news inside the newspaper, data obtained reinforce this difference of treatment. While news about Contador case occupy 34%, Domínguez case and Galgo Operation news occupy 9 points more (43%). In addition, almost a quarter of the news (24%) concern doping in general or other cases related with it (Figure 2).

Figure 2. News inside the newspaper


However, as regards distributionbetween different months, it is noted how during December 2010, there were justtwo news concerning Contador (none of them in the front page) because all themedia attention was focused on the Galgo Operation and Domínguez case (Figure3).

Figure 3. Distribution of the news by month


It is necessary to emphasize that during December 2010, therewas a strake of air traffic controllers in Spain that forced the government touse the army to resolve the situation. On this regard, it was found thefollowing excerpt:

"PP spokesman Esteban Gonzalez Pons, who accused the Ministryof Interior Affairs of intentionally starting a "mediagenic"operation against doping in sport two hours after the appearance of PresidentZapatero on the controllers' dispute" (13-12-2010, p. 19).

Finally, regarding the type of news (Figure 4), it can beobserved that the articles concerning Contador case are usually generalarticles (65), followed by opinion pieces (7), letters to the editor (4),interviews (3) and others (5). On the other hand, Domínguez case has lessgeneral articles (56), one more interview (4) and the same number of news inthe category of others (5).

Figure 4. Distributionof the news by type of article


However, in the categories of letters to the editor andopinion pieces, there are significant differences between both cases. Domínguezcase has just has just one letter and one opinion piece (2 and 4, respectively,if we include news concerning Galgo Operation). In addition, as it is going tobe explained in the next section, the content of such news helped to portray ina different way both cases.

B. Qualitative outcomes

After performing the content analysis of the articles, it wasfound 6 main categories: economics, political, presumption of innocence,sporting discipline, privacy and editorial line. Following, each of thesecategories will be discussed.

1. Economics approach

Meanwhile in Contador case there are noreferences to economical issues, three days after the beginning of Domínguezcase (12-12-2010), there is a headline in the front page that says: "Moneybetrays Marta Domínguez". In addition, inside this edition we can read:"According to investigation sources there are bank accounts in tax heavens andevidence of money laundering. It is the money trail, the economic motive thatis related to many crimes" (p. 47). In addition, economic issues continue toappear in following edition. For example, the newspaper reinforces the ideathat Domínguez receives a large amount of money not just by her sponsorisationbut also money from the federation and the government as professional athlete(15-12-2010, p. 56).

Contador seems not to be touched aboutfinancial issues and the only reference to economics is the interview with themanaging of Saxo Bank (Lars Christensen), the company that sponsors Contador'scycling team. During the interview, Mr. Christensen notes that nowadays cyclinghas a risk for sponsoring and if Contador is finally suspended: "this case willinvite to the reflection of many sponsors who will wonder if this sport is alottery and you cannot plan" (28-10-2010, p. 53).

2. Political approach

In Contador case, the politicalapproach could be summarized with the following construction: it is necessaryto protect him from international attacks (International Cycling Union –UCI–and World Anti-Doping Agency –WADA–) because he has been a victim and he isinnocent. The next excerpt illustrate this idea:

"His problem is the result of incessantpolitical fights between the World Anti-Doping-Agency (WADA) and the UCI, onthe one hand, and the Spanish authorities, on the other (...) The UCI has alwaysaccused Spanish cycling of being too complacent with their doped" (10-11-2010,p. 55).

Under these accusations of the UCI,different political authorities defended Spainish anti-doping policy sayingthat "Spain does not have a special problem with doping" (Lissavetzky[i],17-11-2010, 47), "We are at the forefront of the fight against doping" (SpanishAnti-Doping Agency, 20-10-2010, p. 50).

On the other hand, Contador receivesimportant public support of two very important public figures, the president ofthe Spanish Olympic Committee (COE), Alejandro Blanco (28-10-2010, p. 53, and17-11-2010, p. 47); and the President of the Spanish Government, José LuisRodríguez Zapatero, who used Twitter to say: "There is no legal reason tosanction Contador" (11-02-2011, front page and p. 49).

However, the treatment given toDomínguez has been completely different. To start, the president of SpanishAthletic Federation (FEA), José María Odriozola, provisionally suspendedDomínguez as vice-president of the FEA (11-12-2010, p. 55), without assumingthe presumption of innocence of the athlete. In addition, the president of theCOE, instead of supporting Domínguez as he had done with Contador, he declares:"I am hurt, surprised and shocked, by the category of Marta" (11-12-2010, p.57). Other important political figures that did not talk about the Contadorcase, as the Ministers of Internal Affairs and Justice (Mr. Rubalcaba and Mr.Caamaño respectively) intervened only to say that "it is a terrible news"(11-12-2010, p. 57).

3. Presumption of innocence

It will pay a special attention to show how the presumptionof innocence has been kept for Contador but not for Domínguez in the way thatthese two sportsmen has been portrayed by the newspaper.

First, we can read headlines as follows: "Doping alsofinishes with the great lady of Spanish athletics" or "Doping knocks downanother legend" (10-12-10, front page and p. 62). From the beginning it seemsthat the career of this athlete is finished.

Really symptomatic it is the following text which puts intoquestion her recent performances. Although she has never tested positive duringher entire career, that is not a reason to talk about her "impeccable behavior"(as it is done with Contador, 10-11-2010, p. 55) but to suggest how dopingmethods can evade the analysis:

"Her self-confidence and great social consideration, however,do not mean that the Spanish federation, which until recently she was hervice-president, did not think there was something suspicious about theirrelationship with César Pérez and the irregular way of reaching the majorevents with little previous competitions and with minimal trips to competeabroad. Therefore, she had to pass, only on behalf of the Spanish federation,32 controls out of competition during the last two years, which should be addedthose ordered by the IAAF and WADA. In all cases, the result was negative,which also speaks about the sophistication that can be combined with autologousmicro-doses of EPO to leave no trace" (11-12-2010, p. 53).

4. Athletics vs. Cycling

In the news regarding athletics and cycling it can be notedhow these sports are portrayed by the newspaper with similar characteristics:individual sport, request the maximum body effort for competition and an aid toperformance is very noticeable, unlike other team sports where the tactic orstrategy can make up for physical deficiencies.

Nevertheless, there are differences about how both sports aretreated. A key point was the manifesto written by a group of professionalathletes who support the police operation against doping because, as they pointout: "The cheaters have enjoyed impunity with the desperation of the rest ofthe athletes, who were condemned to compete at a disadvantage simply because ofrespecting the rules" (11-12-2010, p. 55), and as the headline clearly shows:"30 years waiting this" (11-12-2010, p. 55). It seems like Spanish athleticshas been divided during the last decades between those how cheated and thosewho respected the rules, and the Galgo Operation gives them the opportunity tospeak up for this unfair situation. Even, the president of the FEA admits that:"even hurting me, Galgo Operation is good for athletics" (14-12-2010, p. 55).

Concerning cycling, the portrait is different and this sportis shown as ultra-individualistic and where there is no teamwork and beingethical is a difficult task. On this regard we can read an article entitled: "Apack of survivors" (18-10-2010, p. 50), where cyclists are portrayed as acommunity do not supported by politicians and continually chasing byinternational organizations as WADA. As the president of the Cyclist Unionsays: "the problem is that sport authorities do not understand us" (Pipe Gómez,18-10-2010, p. 50).

5. Privacy

The topic of privacy particularlyconcerns to Domínguez case because in the news regarding Alberto Contador werenot found any personal information. Nonetheless, in the news (and pictures)that talked about Domínguez it could be found some private information thatshows the different treatment that this newspaper gave to her as compared withContador. Let's see the following examples:

Her personal address appears two timespublished and even photographed (10-12-2010, p. 63 and 11-12-2010, pp. 54-55).

Her family also appears in differentways in the press: her mother is worried about her daughter because she ispregnant (10-12-2010, p. 63); her sister appears in a photo going insideDomínguez's house to visit her (12-12-2010, p. 48); other picture shows theathlete going to the court with her husband and her lawyer (09-01-2011, p. 50).

Other personal information such as sheis member of a religious brotherhood and she prays before each competition(11-12-2010, 54).

However, according to the informationpublished in this newspaper, we do not know anything about Contador's personallife except he is from Pinto (a city close to Madrid).

6. Editorial line

2010 was a year of great success forSpanish sport (e.g., football, tennis, motorcycling, basketball, cycling,etc.). However, when Galgo Operation started during December it seemed to stainthe image of Spain around the world as "Doping paradise". On this regard, theonly editorial published by El País concerning doping issues appeared on 11thDecember 2010 warning about how dangerous could be for the Spanish interests tobe permissive with these practices. Concretely, it says that:

"It is essential that the justiceinquires and clarifies the cases that tarnished Spanish sport (...). But whatis crucial is that justice is done and nobody in the future in the world ofcompetition can say that in Spain there are two tapes measure, one for theneighbor abroad, and another behind closed doors" (p. 30).

In the same edition it was mentionedthe headlines of other international newspapers (i.e., Gazzetta dello Sport, LeMonde, Daily Mail and Récord) in order to show how the international opinionhad received the news about the Galgo Operation and Domínguez (11-12-2010, p.57). This did not happen when the news of Contador's positive appeared in thepress, showing a more chauvinistic position and blaming the internationalinstitutions (WADA and UCI) or even the quality of French meat, the "real"guilty of Contador's positive:

"The night of 20th August, his friend and partner as anorganizer of the Tour of Castilla and León, José Luis López Cerron, had come tovisit the hotel in Pau where was hosted the Astana Team. He brought a delicioussteak that the cook of the team, Paco Olaya, tired of bad meat from the hotelsin France, had asked" (01-10-2010, p. 58).

Therefore, the steaks brought from Spain seemed to have asmall quantity of clenbuterol that originated all this case and it could neverbe that Contador had used doping substances at seemed to be clear withDomínguez.

However, by the month of December, as it has been pointed outabove, the newspaper was concerned about the international dimension of bothcases and started to change its discourse with the inclusion of articles thatfocused on the problem of doping from a different point of view:

"Doping requires new impetus in the legal and ethical domainsto avoid installing in public opinion, especially in the international, theidea that the results of Spanish sport is inseparable from the problems ofdoping" (12-12-2010, p. 48).

VI. Conclusion

Newspapers have an enormous impact on public opinion and withContador and Domínguez cases it has not being an exception. Nevertheless, if wetalk about doping it seems that there is not intermediate positions andsportsmen who are involved in these cases can only play two roles: heroes orvillains. In the cases analyzed, Contador is portrayed as an honest sportsmanwho has being involved in a doping matter against his will. On the contrary,Domínguez plays the role of guilty even before being formally condemned. Inthis regard, the political tendency of the paper –situated in the center-left– can influencein the way that Domínguez is portrayed because she is member of the PopularParty –ideologically situated in the center-right– and was elected senator in2011 in her natal province with this party. However, further analysis is neededto confirm such hypothesis.

Cases like these are used to feed public opinion, or evendistract it, but not really to generate a real debate about doping and itsconsequences not just for sport but also for society in general as it reflects,among other things, the contradictions of demanding increasingly more to ourathletes without assuming their limits. As Guillon and Nicolet (2000) explain,the athlete is "the last link in the performance chain, the most visible, whoobtains the victory or the defeat, but also the most vulnerable" (p. 32).

The only concern that seemed to really worry, and it istransmitted to public opinion through media, it is the international image thata country can give if the success of its sportsmen can be stained by doping asother doping cases such as the Puerto affair (Soule & Lestrelin, 2011) hasalso demonstrated not many years ago. Spanish politicians have used the successof Spanish sportsmen during the past years as a way to prove the power of thecountry. As President Zapatero declared during the reception to the championsof the Davis Cup 2008: "Thanks to yoursuccess is easy to be in the 'G8' of sports.We are living an optimal time and we are among the best countries in theworld" (26/11/2008, El País). The future change of the presentdoping law in Spain[ii] is the first attempt in this direction, however the path is stilllong and will not be accomplished just with new regulations but with astructural change in the way that sport of competition is conceived.


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[1] Cet article poursuit une réflexion initiée dans le cadre d'un contratde recherché financé par l'AMA-WADA "Prévenir le dopage chez les jeunessportifs en Espagne et en France: approche multidimensionnelle des processus deconduites dopantes" (2011-2013).

[2] As a police force, the Guardia Civil is comparable today to theFrench Gendarmerie, or the Italian Carabinieri.

[3] Since July 30th 2010, when she won the silver medal in the3000 m. steeplechase final of the European Championships, Domínguez had notreturned to competition. It is necessary to note that during these moths, inaddition to the process related to Galgo Operation, Domínguez was pregnant,delivering his first son on May 22nd 2011.

[4] Information obtained from the Oficina de Justificación de la Difusión(2012). This office is the responsible for providing reliable data regardingnewspapers circulation in Spain.

[5] The edition reviewed was the Madridedition.

[6] It must be noted that the information concerning Galgo Operation beganto be published on December 10th 2010.

[7] The first competition where heparticipated after the acquittal was in the Volta ao Algarve (Portugal) thatbegan on February 16th.

[8] It was used the root "dop" becausein Spanish can be possible to find news concerning doping using the verb "todope" (dopar) with all its conjugations.

[9] At this time Jaime Lissavetzky wasthe president of the National Sports Council, the highest institution in Spainconcerning sports. In addition, he is member of the WADA Executive Committee.

[10] Spanish Organic Law 7/2006, ofNovember 21, of Health Protection and Fight against Doping in Sport.