Practical implications of sport as tool within IR

Political and cultural dimension of sport is recognized as a significant contributor to the IR as well as a way to accomplish political goal.[1] Houlihan noted intertwining of sports and politics through the role of sport in diplomacy, ideology, nation-building, the international arena and the economy.[2] On the other hand, the commercialization of sport, which somehow transcends state organs, which ultimately contributes to the appearance of corruption in sport and exclusion of  people from the active or passive participation in sports. It is not uncommon to international sports organizations influence the decisions of state institutions to their financial capabilities and extensive network of lobbyists.


As globalization progressed, number of participants in the arena of international relations increased. In recent years, as the notes and Dragan R. Simic, in his book, the status of the basic subjects in international relations has undermined the emergence of new entities[3], i.e. International and non-profit organizations, such as the FIFA or IOC, that have huge impact on the international community. Free diplomatic space” grabbed” the leading international sports organizations. In the 1992, after the breakup of Yugoslavia and the Resolution 757 of the UN Security Council which was first introduced sport as a component of the sanctions.[4]IOC suggested a plan for individual athletes from Yugoslavia to participate under the IOC flag.[5] The same principle was also used in the 1994, in collaboration with WHO, UNICEF and the Red Cross to provide participants attendance and participation at the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer.[6]

Sports movement, created the necessary conditions making it an indispensable segment in designing strategies and implementing the same activities. Sports organizations are full partners and consultants in various political and sensitive issues, such as violence, racism, drug abuse, corruption and manipulations, promoting education, health, tolerance.

Similarities between sport and IR could be described by Orwell skepticism:

“I am always amazed when I hear people saying that sport creates goodwill between the nations, and that if only the common people of the world could meet one another at football or cricket, they would have no inclination to meet on the battlefield. Even if one didn’t know from concrete examples (the 1936 Olympic Games, for instance), that international sporting contests lead to orgies of hatred, one could deduce it from general principles.”[7]

Aron is probably more precise, stating that a football match is not simply an event pitting team against team; it is confrontation of nations through sports match (country).[8]

Noted by Strenk, sport is perceived as an action-reaction relation[9] described by following statement:

Founder of the International Olympic Committee Baron Coubertin lived idealizing sport that could serve as a platform for international cooperation and to bring long lasting peace by influencing global politics. The footprint of this relationship reflected in the resilience of the politics that will in the end overcome and shape use of sport in order to promote their strategic interests.

Good examples of the relationship between sport and politics in the arena of the IR certainly are the Olympic Games and boycotts. Aggression on Afghanistan marked as cause for boycotting the Moscow Olympics (1984) by WEST which led  four years later boycotting (in smaller scale)  LA Games  (1988) by EAST.[10] On the other hand going a little bit in the past and ”peek” in the US-China relations, there is a chance to spite the western misunderstanding of Chinese tradition, threatening “far east” with the same approach (containment)[11] as used with USSR, diplomatic relations were opened through sport by invitation to the U.S. table tennis team to visit China.[12]




[1] The Sports Historian, 20, 2 (2000), pp. 1-23. Published by: The British Society of Sports History.

[2] Houlihan, B. (1994).  Sport and International Politics. Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf.

[3] Simić, R. D. (2003). Nauka o bezbednosti- savremeni pristupi bezbednosti, pp. 15-19

[4] UN Resolution 757 (1992).

[5] (accessed on 18 of May, 2014).

[6] Jarvie, G. (2008). Sports as a resource of hope, Foreign Policy in Focus, 20th.

[7] George Orwell, (1986). “The Sporting Spirit”, in I belong to the left: The Complete Works of George Orwell, wol. XVII: 1945. Oxford.

[8] Raymond Aron, (2001). “Peace and War; A Theory of International Relations”, Zagreb: Golden Marketing.

[9] Strenk, A. (1979).  “At what price victory?  The world of international sport and politics”. The Annals  of the American Academy, p. 445.

[10] A lot has been written about this topic. Jay, K. (2004).  More Than Just a Game, New York: Columbia University Press, p. 181; Gwertzman,  B. (1979)“Carter Calls Soviet Actions a ‘Threat’,” New York Times, December 29, 1979; Burns, J. F. (1984). “Protests are Issue”,New York Times, sec. A; Shaikin, B. (1988). Sport and Politics: The Olympics and the Los Angeles Games. Preager Publisher, p. 50.

[11] R, Vukadinović. (2008). ’’Vanjska politika SAD’’. Politička kultura, Zagreb, p. 192.

[12] Harding, H. (1999).  A Fragile Relationship:The United States and China since 1972. The Brookings Institution, p. 24.

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