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The insider’s scoop! How to build a sports diplomacy initiative: notes from the field
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U.S. Dept. of State
From storytelling to bringing in outside experts, there are a number of techniques you can use to make your sports diplomacy initiative successful.

The ability of sports to promote diplomacy and democracy is a practice centuries old, one given new life in the twenty-first century as our Internet-connected, globalized world has made the concept of what it is, and who engages in it, more diffuse. 

Sports diplomacy, when the acts of diplomacy (communication, representation, negotiation) intersect with the sports world, is not always easily understood. This is true even of those within governments around the world. Ministries of foreign affairs or officially credentialed state representatives, including diplomats, sporting mega-event host committees, or elite athletes representing the nation in international competition, conduct sports diplomacy. But today, so, too, do non-state sports actors operating within a global sports industry. 

The University of Tennessee Center for Sport, Peace, and Society (CSPS) is the implementing partner of the U.S. Department of State’s Global Sports Mentoring Program. The CSPS fosters mutual understanding, empathy for one another, and advocating for one another’s voice through the vitally important face-to-face contact that’s part of any people-to-people exchange, for it creates a diplomacy for friendship that embodies the goals of diplomacy. It’s thus a multilateral sports diplomacy exchange that ties alumni together in unique ways. 

During our recent Sports Diplomacy Virtual Bootcamp, program alumni shared some of their experiences using sports diplomacy, and some of their lessons are helpful guideposts for those who are considering how to build their own sports diplomacy initiatives.

Activating and fine-tuning good negotiation skills is a must, as is learning which battles to choose to fight (and to fight wisely). Tapping into and engaging under the sports diplomacy framework may require you to broaden notions of what sports diplomacy is. It is not just something for the elite, diplomatic, sporting, or otherwise. Instead, it can be a tool, framework, policy, or strategy used by everyday citizens who are part of what Stuart Murray refers to as an international society of sport.

It’s thus necessary to have patience and be willing to help others along on their educative journey as they learn more about sports diplomacy, its evolution, and what it can be like in the twenty-first century. 

Often, it can be useful to bring in outside experts to represent and present different perspectives on sports diplomacy in order to help broaden your audience’s executive journey. 

Sports diplomacy initiatives can often have a multiplier effect. They can trickle-down as well as trickle-up, benefiting communities and organizations alike, not just individuals. 

It can be difficult to measure in hard, tangible ways the impact of sports diplomacy programming. But incorporating longer-term evaluations, such as a follow-up survey or questionnaire six months after a project or event concludes, is one way to gauge the more ephemeral, intangible ways that sports diplomacy can help us better understand each other, or develop new or more nuanced comprehensions. 

Communication is also key. It is helpful to adapt the language and messaging you use to talk about sports diplomacy to meet your audiences where they are. Understand that government and policy-making circles will require different approaches than civil society or sports industry professionals. Identify the terms and phrasing that people understand and incorporate them into your discussions. This can be just as important as building programmatic initiatives that communicate, represent, and negotiate about a country, its people, and its culture (including sports). 

Storytelling is perhaps the biggest factor in the communication metric. Using experience-based anecdotes that meet audiences where they are at is helpful for it personalizes the idea or outcome and impact. Keep in mind: it isn’t just about the language used, but also the tone, environment, and medium (among other elements). Photography can be a potent way to storytell through the sports diplomacy framework, for images can transcend language barriers. 

Sports help build a global society. While they frequently cannot be separated from politics, they can transcend politics as a common human language. Thus sports can also be used to mend relationships. 

Lastly, you don’t need to be a sports superstar to be an effective sports diplomat. But you do need to be authentic, intentional, and human. 

Written by Lindsay Sarah Krasnoff
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About the author
Lindsay Sarah Krasnoff (LinkedIn bio) is a historian, writer, speaker, and consultant working at the intersection of global sports, communication, and diplomacy. Director of FranceAndUS, and author of Basketball Empire: France and the Making of a Global NBA and WNBA, The Making of Les Bleus: Sport in France, 1958-2010, and Views from the Embassy: The Role of the U.S. Diplomatic Community in France, 1914, she co-directed the SOAS University of London Basketball Diplomacy in Africa Project tied to the NBA’s Basketball Africa League. Krasnoff is an affiliate of the UT Center for Sport, Peace, and Society and Adjunct Faculty at the Tisch Institute for Global Sport, New York University.

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