Moving beyond the ping-pong table: Sports diplomacy in the modern diplomatic

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debate/opinionResearch


For decades there has been much interest in the ‘ends’ of the positive and negative collusions between sports and politics: the role sports can play in development, for example, or the metaphorical sublimation of war, conflict and conquest to the arena, where sports are used as a form of conflict resolution to unite estranged peoples and nations through a mutual affection for physical exercise, competition, and games.

Far less attention has been paid to the ‘means’ of the relationship between sports and politics: diplomacy. What has been written on sports diplomacy is akin to its practice: sporadic case-studies that anecdotally describe pingpong diplomacy, football diplomacy (between Turkey and Armenia, for instance) or the impact sports and diplomacy had in overcoming apartheid and reintegrating South Africa into the international community.

Of late however, practical and theoretical interest in sports diplomacy has been growing. In addition to this issue of PD Magazine, sports diplomacy earned itself a chapter in the soon-to-be-published Oxford Handbook on Modern Diplomacy; respectively, there were two panels on the subject at the 2012 International Studies Association Conference in San Diego and the British International Studies Association conference in Edinburgh; and the Hague Journal of Diplomacy will release a special issue on sports diplomacy in spring 2013. The latter brings together scholars and practitioners from all over the world to ascertain what sports scholars and practitioners have to say about diplomacy and vice-versa.

The purpose of this brief article is therefore to further theoretically substantiate the term sports diplomacy, to suggest some reasons and examples of why governments are turning toward sports as a diplomatic tool, and to remind both the scholar and the practitioner of the pitfalls of mixing sports with diplomacy. In the modern diplomatic environment the potential for sports diplomacy is vast, however the ‘gap’ in the diplomatic studies canon must first be addressed and a dialogue between theorists and practitioners from both realms instigated if sports diplomacy is to become a regular, sustainable and meaningful feature of modern diplomacy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11-17
Number of pages7
JournalPublic Diplomacy Magazine
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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