Sport Diplomacy a tool worthy of governments
The term “Sports diplomacy”, describes the use of sport as a means to influence diplomatic, social, and political relations. Sports in this context may transcend cultural differences and bring people together or at least it is a possibility the European Commission has recently decided to address.
On 11 September, European Commissioner Tibor Navracsics launches two High-Level groups including one on sport diplomacy with the aim of assessing the value of sport in EU external policies, and in public diplomacy in particular.
The group strong of 15 European personalities include ministers, athletes, academics, the director general of the Council of Europe and the President of the European Olympic Committees met for the first time last week in the UK under the Chairmanship of former Hungarian President Pál Schmitt.
The main task of this first meeting was to identify areas of research which display how sport can help the EU reach its external political ambitions, such as fostering relations with partner countries, and be an element of dialogue with third countries and regions as part of EU public diplomacy. The group is expected to report on their findings to the European Commission by June 2016.
This is far from the first time governments are reflecting on how to use sport to improve their external relations or internal unity. The US government, pioneers of “Ping-Pong diplomacy” over four decades ago and have long understood the power of sport and have dedicated a department within the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs devoted to sport diplomacy. We have witnessed their expertise put into action earlier this year with sport exchanges being on the agenda to re-establish relations between Cuba and the United States or for the football world cup or through their sport envoys.
In June last year, it was Australia’s turn to showcase their sport diplomacy strategy 2015 – 2018 showcasing their understanding of building external and internal relations and now Europe.
It seems sport diplomacy has gradually becomes an allegory for breaking down boundaries and building dialogue, it will be interesting to see what the European commission develop and how they envision to explore this tool which has since the era of the ancient Olympic Games, assisted human societies in mediating ruptures, transforming conflict and channelling competitive urges. Through this medium, cities and states have represented themselves to, and communicated with foreign counterparts. In doing so, these sides which may be seen as opposites of a unit have come to know one another, creating opportunities to build and sustain durable, ongoing and peaceful relationships.