Diplomacy is defined as the profession, activity, or skill of managing international relations, typically by a country's representatives abroad. Diplomacy can contribute to fostering democracy and building strong institutions.

Sports diplomacy refers to the unique power of sport to bring people, nations, and communities closer together via a shared love of physical pursuits.

Similar to sport for development, sports diplomacy can promote values and life skills related to leadership, gender equality, non-violence, and community engagement. The key difference is that diplomacy often functions across nations or governments, while development often takes place at the community level.

Examples of sports diplomacy include:

  • Elite athletes positioned as national ambassadors or inspiration (such as athlete Goodwill Ambassadors) in which they leverage their platform to improve relations between two or more different communities/countries.
  • Exchange programs where individuals or athletes visit a different country, thereby fostering increased understanding across two or more different communities/countries.
  • Some argue that mega sports events, such as the Olympic and Paralympic Games, promote peace across athletes and community members from different countries. Host nations also use such events to promote diplomacy and soft power. However, this also leads to allegations of “sportswashing”, as undemocratic regimes use sport to improve their international image.

Some governments also run specific sports diplomacy activities. For example,  the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has a sports diplomacy strategy. This aims to “bring people, communities, nations and regions together to help build security and prosperity through a shared love of sports,” especially in the Asia-Pacific region.

The U.S. Department of State has a Sports Diplomacy Division. This was originally created after 9/11 to reach out to young people in the Middle East through soccer. It has since expanded to all regions and many sports, with a programme of activities that primarily focus on people-to-people exchanges.

Image by Anna Tarazevich

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This section was developed with the generous support of the Swedish Postcode Foundation.