Sport diplomacy for development and peace
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Sport diplomacy can be a tool for policymakers and international agencies to use to create stronger ties between people and tackle issues like poverty, gender equality and climate change.

Sport for development and peace uses sport as a policy tool to tackle issues like poverty, gender equality and climate change. Increased development will lead to increased peace. The first and possibly best example of sport diplomacy is the Olympic Games. Since their inception in the times of Ancient Greece, the Olympic Games have had the tradition of the Olympic Truce. The Olympic Truce is to ensure the safe travel of athletes and spectators to the Games during times of war. The Olympic Games allow people to put aside their differences and come together in the spirit of international cooperation. Sports unite people. At the Olympic Games and other international competitions, we bring people together and create a space for international cooperation, showing the world that we can all get along.

Individual nations are placing sport as a central pillar in their foreign policy. The Australian Government launched their Sport Diplomacy 2030 initiative February of 2019:

Sports Diplomacy 2030 envisages closer collaboration between the Australian sports codes, industry and government to leverage the nation's sporting excellence in ways that enhance Australia's influence and reputation and advance our national interests.

To help deliver these goals the strategy is organised around four strategic priority areas:

  1. Empower Australian sport to represent Australia globally
  2. Build linkages with our neighbours
  3. Maximise trade, tourism and investment opportunities
  4. Strengthen communities in the Indo-Pacific

Australia is using sport to strengthen its reputation in the world and help build partnerships with other countries. This in turn helps with trade and helps grow the economy.

The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the US Department of State uses sport as a tool for diplomacy as well. They highlight that they use sport as a way to transcend linguistic and sociocultural differences and that it can build links between countries.

A good example of sport diplomacy in action is how Samantha Power, former US ambassador to the United Nations, on many of her overseas trips used sport to break down barriers and connect with women and girls around the world. This is a form of sport diplomacy, building stronger connections and a global community through sport. Sport diplomacy is a growing trend for increasing international cooperation. It can be used to increase peace around the world.

Another concrete example of sport diplomacy can be seen on the Korean peninsula. During the 2018 Winter Olympics, we saw a joint North and South Korea delegation. They also announced that they intended on launching a joint bid for the 2032 Olympics. Sports are bringing these two countries together. A lot more needs to be done outside of the field of play, but sport can help bridge the divide. A lot of consideration needs to be taken before awarding the Olympic Games to a country that has such poor human rights record as North Korea. But these small steps can lead to something much bigger. The closer the ties between these two countries, the more work can be done to improve the lives of people living in North Korea. By uniting these countries and bringing them closer together, South Korea can help influence positive change to make the lives better for those that live in North Korea.

There is also grassroots sport diplomacy. What is grassroots sport diplomacy? The International Sport and Culture Association defines grassroots sport diplomacy as: 

“A new qualitative, cost efficient and impactful approach aiming at:

  • Increasing or creating lasting dialogue and cultural understanding;
  • Facilitating transfer of knowledge between the grassroots sport sector and relevant actors (including other grassroots sport organisations, states, NGOs, civil society or even individuals); and
  • Contributing to society and individual development in the health, educational and sport or social fields.”

Grassroots sport diplomacy to me is a citizen-to-citizen engagement that takes place in the community. It creates more inclusion within a society for women and girls, newcomers, LGBTQ+ people and people with disabilities.

One area that can grow more is cross-border grassroots diplomacy. Engaging at the citizen level between nations may be easier in Europe where countries are closer together and it is easier and cheaper for youth teams to travel, compared to Canada where the only land border is with the United States. But there are many opportunities to build stronger ties between countries that can be taken when engaging at a more grassroots level. 

One example that I love for grassroots sport diplomacy is the Canada Games. These Games engage youth from across the country in sports and create mutual understanding, a sense of belonging and connectedness. We are currently going through what seems like a national unity crisis, but sports help remind us that we have more in common than differences. There is more that unites us as a country than divides us. Grassroots sport diplomacy has a role to play in keeping citizens engaged with each other and ending the "us" versus "them" mentality.

Foreign policymakers and thinkers should use sport as a policy tool to increase international presence, and social and economic ties, using sport as the vessel for peace and development around the world.

David Thibodeau is a former competitive swimmer and current National Coaching Certification Program certified coach. He founded Sports for Social Impact to explore sport policy and provide insightful analysis to those working in the sport industry. He is an advocate for better inclusion of LGBTQ+ people in sports and gym classes. And has a Masters in Public Policy and Administration from Carleton University.

This article was first published by Sports for Social Impact. It has been modified for sportanddev.



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