Sports as a Foreign Policy and Diplomatic Tool

Udo Merkel

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The so-called ‘Christmas Truce' during the First World War (1914-18) made sport famous for pacifying the opposing sides (Brown and Seaton 1994; Jürgs 2003; Weintraub 2002) - albeit temporarily. Although this episode is often cited as evidence of sport's peace-making ability, the following three anecdotes are, at least, equally impressive and show different facets of the relationship between sport and international politics: The well-known ping-pong diplomacy made an important contribution to an improvement in Sino-American relations in the early 1970s (Carter and Sugden 2012; Hill 1996: 123; Kanin 1978). In 1998, a group of five American wrestlers and the same number of officials visited Iran to participate in the international Takhti Cup tournament. It was the first US delegation to visit Iran since before the Iranian Revolution. Symbolically, one of the most significant moments was the hoisting of the American flag in Tehran. Since 1979, the only images of the Stars and Stripes banner in Iran were those of flags being burned in anti-US demonstrations of animosity and resentment (Goldberg 2000). In spring 2004, the Indian cricket team toured Pakistan for the first time in 15 years. The tour followed a general agreement between the South Asian neighbours on a timetable for peace talks over the disputed province of Kashmir. It was initiated by an ‘informal' visit of former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to watch a cricket match in India that the previous Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, and his Foreign Minister, Natwar Singh, also attended. It was the Indian government's willingness to let the cricketers tour Pakistan that convinced Pakistanis that Delhi's conciliatoriness was sincere and genuine (Bhaskaran 2006).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRoutledge Handbook of Sport and Politics
EditorsJ. Kelly, A. Bairner, J. Lee
Place of PublicationUK
Number of pages11
ISBN (Print)9781138792548
Publication statusPublished - 7 Oct 2016


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