Where does sport fit in diplomacy and governance?
This terrific question brought me to London for four days of meetings, presentations, roundtables, and informal discussions at the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy, SOAS, where I’m presently a Research Associate. A straightforward answer wasn’t one of our many outcomes. But enriched understandings of the myriad factors that play into this query, identification of key stakeholders and audiences who should be involved in and benefit from this conversation, and related questions were key takeaways for many.
Its hard to escape the realization that in today’s global sports world, diplomacy and governance are part of the equation. This holds true for those involved on the business, tech, and finance sides, media, operations, advocacy, officials, administrators, athletes and beyond. And it also impacts fans, fandom, consumership, and consumption of sport.
At a small roundtable, a few ideas, intriguing questions were raised:
- How do we challenge traditional ideas of sport in the Cold War, and how can we correct some misperceptions which still pop up in the media landscape today? Why are sports used as a vector in constructs of identity? What’s the relationship between local vs national vs international in the symbolism of sport, and how much can they be layered? For example, how does international sport strengthen or weaken identities, such as the British one, in sport?
- What are the tensions in 21st century sport, how are they informed by sporting pasts, and who is trying to problem solve them for tomorrow? Take the English Premiership, a national entity reliant upon international staff and labor, which markets to both local and international fans.
- Can sport be a truly democratic institution? And, here is one I am fascinated by, what is the role of the media, both as an enabler/contributing to corruption in sport while also shining light on such issues and advocating for corrections?
- What, exactly, is sport diplomacy and who can conduct it? [hint: yes, athletes, you are indeed ambassadors!]
Several themes shined through during the course of the ronudtable discussions. A few include: sport’s role in a regional and global world; timing and opportunism in sport vis-à-vis diplomacy or governance; multidimensional conversations in sport, diplomacy, and governance; and how one can measure, analyze, and evaluate all of this.
The evening program, a panel featuring Stuart Whigham, Jaeho Kang, and J. Simon Rofe, produced yet more fascinating insights. Across the speakers and audience questions, the importance of these questions to today’s sport and diplomatic worlds were highlighted and provided food for onward thought. You can scroll through Twitter recaps via the #sportdiplomacy #soas2018 tags, and here's the video.
En route to Heathrow this afternoon, I found myself reversing the question: perhaps it’s where do diplomacy and governance fit in today’s global sport world? I, for one, look forward to continuing this conversation with key stakeholders, audiences, and the public.
A huge round of thanks to everyone at SOAS who made this week possible, especially Verity Postlethwaite, Simon Rofe, Jaeho Kang, Helen Macnaughton, and their teams.