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Blood, Sweat and Tears: the Power of Sport

Sport is a key part of both the past and present worlds. Along with music, literature and dance, it’s something that is both magnificent, yet odd: we don’t need any of these things to survive really but it’s difficult to imagine living without them. Most appreciate sports for their entertaining, inspiring or competitive values while others dismiss them as “just a game.” For me, sport carries a much heavier weight in society than was previously known or appreciated. It has been well documented that generals used gladiators in ancient Rome to entertain a public and take their eyes off more serious social issues. But even today, out of the gyms, away from the courts, pitches and fields, sport can play a pivotal role in changing lives, communities and even break through age-old domestic and international rivalries.  Because of this, governments and institutes all over the world and stepping up their efforts to support sports diplomacy. Previously major powers saw ‘cultural diplomacy’ such as sport as being weak, inferior or just not worthwhile. This kind of ‘soft power’ diplomacy includes sporting events, language schools and university exchange programs between nations. Governments had underestimated the power of culture and how it can affect people and their perception of foreign nations.

Changing Perceptions

On an international scale, the BRICS association which consists of 5 emerging financial powers (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) have (or will have) all invested in major sporting events by 2018. South Africa, Brazil and Russia had/will have the FIFA World Cup, one of the greatest spectacles on the planet. China has and Brazil will have held the Olympic Games which is as big as the World Cup in attracting worldwide attention. These events cost billions to hold and run but can influence the world’s collective image of a nation. Hence the grand opening and closing ceremonies in which nations try to showcase their culture and create a positive brand of their nation which will hopefully lead to an increase in foreign investment or increased tourism in the future.

China held the Olympics in 2008. Can the money spent on lavish ceremonies and stadia change the world’s perception of China?

Bridging Divides

“Sport has the power to change the world…it has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.”

Nelson Mandela

(http://www.bbc.com/sport/0/25262862)

Sport can also influence people who have no interest in the games themselves. Sport can provide the perfect platform for groups to work cohesively together and encourage those watching to follow suit. Two famous examples stand out for me. One, during apartheid in South Africa when the Rugby World Cup was heading to SA. At that time only white players were allowed to play for the national team. Eventually, thanks to President Nelson Mandela, this rule was broken and black players were allowed to play. Despite initial disapproval, the nation soon got behind the team and their success was evident off the field by uniting the nation. The second example that springs to mind is the 1991 table tennis championships in China in which North and South Korea entered as a joint team and defeated the favorites China. This situation overcame the unique and unfortunate circumstances between the two Koreas.

‘Korea’ or ‘As One’ was a 2012 movie that depicted the true story of the two Koreas united at last.

 

Local challenges and Local Success

My favorite sport by far is ‘the Beautiful Game’ as it is known: football (or soccer depending on where you are). I love the sport like millions around the world. Growing up, not only does it help kids stay fit and learn to work in teams, but even as an adult it shows how sport is a universal language that can be enjoyed by everyone. Though playing time has become limited, I play with guys from nearly 10 countries, all whom have different backgrounds and languages yet while playing, everyone is able to communicate. By sensing the power and passion that football carries, some wise people have used it to promote great projects in underdeveloped communities. Academies set up by pros in Sierra Leone for example offer kids a chance to be a part of something meaningful and lighten up their otherwise grim lives. Even in western nations, football leagues have been set up in London for teenagers who are involved in gangs. Games kick off at 3am. Research showed that this was the peak of night when knife crime and anti-social behavior occurred among youths in the area. The project has been running successfully and helped teens explore other options out of gang life.

 

 

Sport is a financial giant with sponsors, merchandise, ticketing and stadia development all contributing to the games natural values. However, the power that sport brings should be worth greater investment. Games can bring families together to the couch, communities gather for cup finals and nations stand up and sing anthems as one. Everyone needs a sport of some kind to appreciate the effects it can over the individual and on a larger scales, institutes, governments and nations should appreciate the diplomatic value of sport.

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Written by Peter Walsh

Hi everyone, my name is Peter. I'm from Ireland but I'm currently living in South Korea where i work as a teacher. I love to travel and meet new cultures. I've had a colorful past which included farming pigs, working in a power plant and running a reggae bar in Thailand. I want the world to get along more and learn from each other to erase our prejudices.

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