Home arrow Archives arrow Open Forum arrow Open Forum-2019 arrow Sports Diplomacy: TIME-TESTED PRACTICE, By Dr. S. Saraswathi, 28 February 2019
News and Features
INFA Digest
Parliament Spotlight
Journalism Awards
Sports Diplomacy: TIME-TESTED PRACTICE, By Dr. S. Saraswathi, 28 February 2019 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 28 February 2019

Sports Diplomacy


By Dr. S. Saraswathi

(Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)


Will there be a surgical strike on the sports arena too? The clamour for boycotting Pakistan in the 2019 Cricket World Cup is growing day by day following the Pulwama terror attack. Even ardent cricket fans support boycott as part of India’s fight against terrorism and its promoters and facilitators. 


This controversy immediately follows India’s refusal to grant visas to two Pakistani shooters for participating in shooting event in New Delhi in ISSF World Cup 2019.


The step is not rewarded. On the contrary, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has taken a purely sports view of the situation and revoked Tokyo 2020 Olympics qualification status or rapid fire pistol event to India. It has suspended all Indian applications to host future events and urged international federations not to stage competitions in India.


Indian Olympic Association (IOA) had a plan to bid for hosting Youth Olympics in 2026, Asian Games in 2030, and Summer Olympics for the first time in 2032 all of which may be affected unless a solution is found for ending State-aided terrorism.


The unexpected victimisation of a popular international sport by terrorist attacks is a big blow to sports lovers in the country who vigorously search for a means to save the sport and fight terrorism simultaneously. Amidst speculations surrounding India-Pakistan match scheduled to start on 30th May in England and Wales and cancellation of India’s match with Pakistan fixed for 16th June, the efficacy of sports diplomacy to deal with international disputes comes for scrutiny. 

The issue here is not a restricted bilateral problem between two nations, but a global fight against terrorism.


IOC’s stand is from sports point of view and based on the principle of non-discrimination, equal treatment of all athletes and sporting delegations, and political non-interference written in the Olympic Charter. The Charter did not provide for abnormal situations.


The Committee of Administrators (CoA) appointed by the Supreme Court under Vinod Rai, who has said that the sporting community needs to ostracise Pakistan, has decided to consult the Government about playing the match with Pakistan. Meanwhile, the opening ceremony of the Indian Premier League (IPL) scheduled to take place on 23rd March has been cancelled and it has been decided to divert the funds meant for it to the families of the victims of Pulwama attack.


Sports can be a matter to foster friendship and also to express enmity in international relations. It can be used by individual nations or blocks of nations to display their collective superiority or just unity for or against something or somebody. Participation and non-participation in events convey some political objectives.


But, the popularity of sports particularly cricket among people irrespective of age, sex, educational level, occupation, religion and caste cannot be dismissed by political  bosses. Sports are watched on TV by several millions of people. Advertisement revenue raised by sports events is enormous and is a matter to be weighed in stalling sports events.  


Hosting international sports events is a prestigious responsibility given only to countries having the capacity to provide the infrastructure to conduct the sports and to accommodate hundreds of players and lakhs of spectators. It promotes trade and business and tourism in the host countries.


Sports can overcome differences and bring people together. So also, boycotting particular country is an effective way of segregating an unfriendly nation. If it is a decision of all against one or more specific countries, it has the effect of showing international disapproval of some policies/actions of the nations boycotted. It is like social ostracism. Sports diplomacy is an accepted and time-tested international practice.


After the First World War, five Axis nations -- Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Hungary, and Turkey were not invited to 1920 games in Antwerp, Belgium. In 1948, Germany and Japan – principal axis powers that started the War - were not invited to London game. The Soviet Union did not participate in Summer Olympics between Wars. It joined only in 1952 at Helsinki Olympics.


In 1964, South Africa was prevented from participating in Tokyo Games for practicing Apartheid in sports also -- a ban which lasted for 30 years. The attempt of the IOC to readmit South Africa after assurances of maintaining multi-racial teams failed because of threat of boycott from other African nations.


In 1976, African nations demanded suspension of New Zealand by the IOC for continued contact with South Africa. The Commonwealth thereafter in 1977 adopted the Gleneagles Agreement to discourage sporting contact with South Africa. The Communist China was not recognised by the IOC. US-Chinese relations took a good turn during the Cold War which was attributed to Table Tennis and was called “Ping-Pong Diplomacy”.


It started with exchange of Table Tennis players between the US and the People’s Republic of China in the early 1970s. It paved the way for a visit to Beijing by President Nixon in 1972 followed by Zuang Zedon’s visit to US as the head of Chinese table tennis delegation. The two came closer during 31st Table Tennis World championship hosted by Japan. Sports formed the background for the lifting of the embargo on China by the USA in 1971. Ping-Pong Diplomacy laid seeds to bring North and South Korea closer in 1991.


In 1980, the US and several other countries refused to attend Moscow Olympics as a protest against Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Added to that, the US organised the “Alternative Olympics” which was attended by 29 countries. Soviet and 14 nations in its block boycotted 1984 Los Angeles Olympic and organised parallel events. In the year 2000, Afghanistan was barred from Sydney Olympic Games for its discriminatory practices against women under the Taliban rule. It was reinstated after two years after the fall of Taliban.


Thus sports has not been merely playing, winning or losing games; it reflects over-all international political relations to some extent. However, there has also been a view across nations to separate sports which arises from people to people contact from international politics.    The dichotomy  existing  between political  and  sports  interaction  was  seen  in 1998 Football  World Cup in which the US and Iran that were political enemies since Iran’s Islamic Revolution of 1979,  were grouped together.


Football is known to be a bridge to close differences and prejudices. Football World Cup took place in South Korea and Japan in 2002 as hosts and it worked even though the two countries were not allowing each other to cross their borders. It was said to be an example of tolerance and understanding. It could also be the manifestation of overwhelming interest in sports in most countries of the world that may be willing even to declare truce during wars to play their games in international matches.


Sports is an instrument of peace recognised as such by the UNO also. The UN has an office on Sport for Development and Peace to encourage systematic and coherent use of sports to promote its objectives. In 1993, the UN General Assembly revived the Olympic Truce which provides safe passage for players and visitors to the Olympics. Still, sports has no independent capacity outside the field. It can promote peace only when the political atmosphere is conducive to peace and friendship.---INFA


(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)




























< Previous   Next >
  Mambo powered by Best-IT