This blog is hosted on Ideas on EuropeIdeas on Europe Avatar

Latest

EU sport diplomacy gathers momentum, step by step

sport - made for sharingWhat does the EU have to do with ‘sport diplomacy’? In a post published on this site fifteen months ago, I reported on the reflections of a high-level group that was set up by Commissioner Tibor Navracsics in 2015 and that produced a report with a series of recommendations in June 2016.

Since then, the idea has gathered an almost surprising momentum. As early as November 2016, the Council formulated very explicit conclusions on what should be understood by ‘sport diplomacy’, and in May 2017, a Work Plan for Sport 2017-2020 fixing priorities was approved.

All this and more was discussed yesterday, 6 December, in a stimulating seminar organized by the Commission’s Sport Unit in Brussels.

Discussing what makes sense in sport diplomacy.

Discussing what makes sense in sport diplomacy.

My major personal takeaway is the slow slide into irrelevance of the ‘soft power’ concept, which has been discussed so often in connection to sport mega-events, from the London Olympics to the Brazilian World Cup or the ‘Chinese (football) dream’.

But the European Union does not need to ‘use’ sport for ‘gaining soft power resources’. The power it wields in external relations is soft by definition. And the EU is at its very best when it plays its modest but efficient role as ‘enabler’, stubbornly promoting a set of values that it wishes to stand for.

The times are changing: the future of sport diplomacy does not lie in high-cost, high-risk mega-events with a huge, but ephemeral, mass media echo and a short-term impact on the ‘Nations Brand Index’. It lies in decentralised, low-cost people-to-people actions, in projects on a modest scale that change people’s lives for the better in a sustainable way (not only for the beneficiaries but also for the enablers, by the way!).

Its success will be based on the credibility and coherence with which values like civil society empowerment, volunteering, gender equality, social inclusion in all its forms are embodied and spread. It will be nurtured by the sharing of one’s own (not so distant) learning curve in matters of good governance, sustainable development, or anti-discrimination. It will be implemented but what Europe already does best: facilitating people-to-people dialogue across borders of all kinds.

It is remarkable that even a national endeavour like the Paris Olympics 2024 seems to have intuitively and enthusiastically understood this: if sport is not ‘made for sharing’, as their lovely slogan claims, and does not aim at making a change for others, rather than only for oneself, it’s not worth it.

Against this backdrop, it is only logical that the ERASMUS+ programme has been identified as the most appropriate, almost obvious, tool for enhancing sport diplomacy actions that are carried by federations, associations, higher education institutions or other actors of civil society with the intention to provide help and assistance to those who are in need of it and to engage in intercultural dialogue.

David Blough presenting one of many (very) good practices.

David Blough presenting one of many (very) good practices.

There is no lack of concrete, convincing examples. Preparing young coaches in countries that do not have adequate training structures, bringing school drop-outs back into education, empowering girls through football, facilitating the integration of refugees in their host society, raising awareness on disabilities and creating organization capacity to address them, building capacity for a new generation of young leaders for the sports movement itself – you name it.

After all the shambles and scandals around large international sport bodies and dubious mega events, the EU kind of sport diplomacy has a promising window of opportunity ahead. If promoted in a modest, but sustained and coherent manner, sport diplomacy can become an extremely positive contributor to the European Union’s external relations. Little by little, step by step, a good idea is making its way.

COMMENT

Recent Articles

Zeit fürs Gegenpressing!

Published on by | No Comments
Gegenpressing 2

Der Schatz an Metaphern, den der Fußball für die Politik bereithält, ist immer wieder erstaunlich. Gar nicht so einfach, ihnen zu widerstehen; sie drängen sich ja oft geradezu auf. Und oft genug gehen sie semantisch nach hinten los. Aber jetzt, da sogar Jürgen Habermas der Versuchung erlegen ist, sei es gestattet, eine seiner Vorlagen aufzunehmen. […]

Germany need some ‘Gegenpressing’

Published on by | No Comments
Gegenpressing 2

The abundance of metaphors that football holds in store for politics is amazing. Used by tongue-in-cheek commentators like Anand Menon – who recently compared the successive Theresa May speeches in Florence and Manchester to a European Cup away game and return leg – they can be funny and meaningful. Used by leading politicians – remember […]

Nation-building. Participant observation, June 2015.

Published on by | Comments Off
Celebration 7 Juin (03)

A text I published elsewhere over two years ago. Read it again against the backdrop of this week’s news, found it still valid.   It is not every day that a researcher has the opportunity to be the eye-witness of a nation in the making. Sunday evening 7 June 2015, at the intersection between Avinguda […]

Brexit and the German Elections: a Tale of Two Countries

Published on by | Comments Off
T shirt anglais

1. In early August, FT columnist Simon Kuper dedicated his weekly piece to the three ‘enduring flaws’ of British politics as revealed by Brexit. His (rather devastating) diagnosis – ‘substance-free, hot air’ rhetoric instead of political debate, ‘the ruling class’s insularity’, and ‘delusions of grandeur’ – was accompanied by a delicious illustration by Harry Haysom. […]

France 2017: La grande coalition

Published on by | Comments Off
Finishing line

Ever since I started to talk to the French about their political system and listened to their perceptions of what was going wrong in the Fifth Republic – a little more than three decades now – I had this impression, unbacked by any robust statistical evidence, of a quite large majority at the centre of […]

France 2017: The Charisma Bonus

Published on by | Comments Off
France June 2017-2

It’s time to take your good old Max Weber out of the shelf again. His definitions of sources of authority are as pertinent as they have ever been. What did he write about ‘charisma’ again? ‘The exemplary character of an individual person’, ‘endowed with specifically exceptional qualities’, and by whom ‘new normative patterns are revealed’ […]

France 2017: It’s the semantics, stupid!

Published on by | Comments Off
Mégaphone 1

Emmanuel Macron’s entry on the diplomatic scene – from the NATO and G7 summits last week to the meeting with Vladimir Putin on Monday – may already be regarded as a positive and very encouraging achievement, but everybody, in France and elsewhere, agrees that the new President’s real and primordial challenge is the capacity to […]

France 2017: The end of ridicule?

Published on by | Comments Off
Ridicule

For over forty years, since Maurice Duverger coined the expression in 1974, ‘The Republican monarchy’ has no doubt been the most frequently used metaphor for the Fifth Republic. In countless books, essays and articles, the presidential system and all its corollaries –power, pomp and protocol – have been portrayed as a legacy of pre-Revolutionary, absolute […]

France 2017: Disruptive

Published on by | Comments Off
Louvre 1

Emmanuel Macron had no chance of winning the presidential election. Every textbook on French politics or contemporary history will tell you so. He had no chance, and he seized it. After his first large-scale rallies, in Strasbourg in October 2016 or in Paris in December, all serious commentators indulged in gentle mockery. Partly because his […]

France 2017: The Bridges of May

Published on by | Comments Off
Avignon-2

It’s the first thing the French check out when they’re back from their summer holidays and ‘La Rentrée’ – that fateful moment when normal life resumes in early September – is looming again: on what day of the week will the national holidays fall in the forthcoming school year? 1st and 11th November (All Saints […]

UACES and Ideas on Europe do not take responsibility for opinions expressed in articles on blogs hosted on Ideas on Europe. All opinions are those of the contributing authors.