More than a Game – Sport in Foreign Policy
International ifa conference in Brussels held at the Representation of the State of Baden-Württemberg to the EU, 10 December 2014
By Julia Hass/Dorothea Grassmann
In our fragmented, tense and divided world, a world that is more interconnected than at any other time in human history, there is a growing need for effective cultural relations that are capable of mitigating the risk of major conflicts caused by misunderstandings or lack of understanding between different countries, communities or groups.
Sport can be a social, cultural and political force for fostering cultural relations through intercultural communication and development and for strengthening social contacts. It is therefore an extremely useful tool for anyone who is involved in contemporary cultural relations.
Mutuality, reciprocity, trust and cooperation all have to be strengthened in order to forge meaningful cultural relations.
"Sport is capable of making the art of the possible, possible", said Grant Jarvie from the University of Edinburgh. It has a universal appeal that crosses the barriers of language and culture, providing an opportunity for people, cities and countries to make connections. Sport develops the feel good factor, even if only temporarily, so it can help to form relationships in an informal setting and break down barriers for political representatives or NGOs in crisis regions.
Major sports events can also have a significant impact on a country’s image, both internationally (for example, the 2006 Football World Cup in Germany) and nationally (as with the Olympic Games in Sochi 2014). As Jonathan Grix from the University of Birmingham pointed out, the key to successfully creating a positive impact outside and/or inside a country is to achieve credibility. In the case of the 2006 Football World Cup in Germany, Grix believes that credibility was attained inside and outside Germany, whereas the Sochi Olympic Games only achieved it within Russia.
With its universal appeal, sport reaches people of all ages, genders, faiths, cultures and social status. This fact makes sport a valuable tool for development work. Bart Vanreusel from the University of Leuven stated that since 2000 there has been a major surge and growth in sport-related programmes run by NGOs in general and by NGOs that particularly focus on sport. "The vast majority of programmes in Africa focus on primary education, gender equality and combating HIV/AIDS." One NGO that works in this area is streetfootballworld. Johannes Axster from streetfootballworld explained that by focusing on health education and insertion into the local labour market, particularly for children and adolescents, streefootballworld has managed to build a network of 101 organisations that work on the ground. "For example, we help our members to strengthen their activities by developing fundraising strategies", said Axter.
While NGOs have increased their commitment to sport-related programmes, Vanreusel pointed out that the work of the NGOs is held back by a lack of commitment on the part of the various governments. With the GTZ/Youth Development through Football (YDF) initiative, Cora Burnett from the University of Johannesburg highlighted a programme that works together with the governments of African countries, NGOs, and international and national football federations to foster the commitment of governments and bring all stakeholders together. The speakers emphasised that sport can only achieve a long-lasting impact if the governments with legal powers in their respective countries take responsibility for supervising the framework and sanctioning offences.
Sport’s universal appeal opens up an opportunity to include groups that are excluded in many societies. "Sport gives women and girls self-confidence", said Monika Staab, Germany’s 2014 Football Ambassador. Staab works with girls and women primarily in Muslim countries. Along with offering training, she also works for the acceptance of women’s football by promoting the positive impact of self-confident women on male-dominated societies.
As with any other tool in cultural relations, sport alone cannot be a tool for conflict resolution, development work and nation-branding. But it can contribute to winning friends, be a resource for hope by breaking down social and cultural barriers and – like other aspects of culture – help to develop human capital.