You are here

Anchoring diplomatic ties on sports

Copyrights: Brazilian Embassy of Kenya

Anchoring diplomatic ties on sports

Gabriel Tabona reflects on sport’s role in building bridges and affecting diplomatic relations.

Establishing diplomatic ties forms the basic foundation through which nations interact. Through formal ties, countries get to benefit from different activities such as exemptions and concessions of trade. Africa’s quest to build its own economic capacity and self-dependency saw the launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area in Kigali despite drawing scepticism as in the case of Brexit, yet such arrangements highlight the need for better ties.

When brought into the prism of sports and diplomacy, sport can potentially influence decisions which can adversely affect relations— as was reported during the bidding process for the 2026 World Cup, where countries were threatened with sanctions should they vote otherwise. While the tripartite USA-Mexico-Canada took the day, it brought to light a “Cold War gesture” between  South Africa and Morocco with the former reciprocating the latter’s refusal to support its 2010 World Cup bid leading to Morocco’s envoy being recalled. Such scenarios affect the pre-season tours and the 39th English Premier League game intentions.

Oppression, democracy and political formations are not devoid of interring country relations. The apartheid era saw racial segregation where white minority and black majority groups isolated themselves from each other. Activism among popular athletes called out world leaders for ignoring injustices then. As part of the healing process, the 1995 and 1996 Rugby World Cup and African Cup of Nations respectively mobilised the international community to advocate for social inclusion.

Due to its association with the Democratic Republic of Congo's opposition leader, Congolese football club TP Mazembe has seen its stadium seized and the team denied entry from continental football competitions. Battles between Palestine and Israel have caught the eyes of football authorities. At a time when Jerusalem was declared the capital city of Israel and the United States embassy moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Argentina had to cancel a World Cup warm-up match due to a border dispute in which Palestine wanted FIFA to invoke Article 72.2 of its statutes to stop six lower league sides from using a disputed territory. Tanzania’s ruling party, Tanzania African National Union, used Yanga F.C. to champion the Ujamaa philosophy which had elements of communism.

While it can’t be exhaustive, sport has continued to be used to build bridges, breaking or reinstating diplomatic ties in different generations. This leads to an in-depth conversation to establish how its connection to reducing political and social barriers can be harnessed for the benefit of the  United Nations.


Article type



Monday, August 20, 2018 - 12:52

E-Newsletter subscribe