When Sport Can Be a Catalyst for Serious Work of Diplomacy; Senior Lecturer and Associate Dean, International, at Cardiff Metropolitan University Dr Alun Hardman Looks at Whether Sport Can Advance Peace between Nations

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), February 26, 2018 | Go to article overview

When Sport Can Be a Catalyst for Serious Work of Diplomacy; Senior Lecturer and Associate Dean, International, at Cardiff Metropolitan University Dr Alun Hardman Looks at Whether Sport Can Advance Peace between Nations


IT WAS an unexpected addition to the "ice diplomacy" of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. North Korean cheerleaders, who had supported the unified Korean women's ice hockey team, then showed up en masse to cheer on the South Korean men's team in their defeat to the Czech Republic.

Aside from the symbolic unity on display at the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics, when athletes from the North and South marched out under a unified flag, real diplomacy has happened on the sidelines and in the stands.

South Korean president Moon Jaein and Kim Yo-jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, met on the sidelines of the games in a meeting that culminated in Moon's invitation to visit Pyongyang. They both then went on to watch the combined Korean team.

Sport and politics often collide, and leaders have increased their efforts to harness the role of sport in furthering their national interests. But sporting competitions have been taking place between nation states in conflict for millennia.

At the ancient Olympics, a truce enabled athletes and spectators from the warring states of ancient Greece to travel safely to and from the games held in the host state of Elis, which was in control of Olympia.

It's unclear whether the Olympic truce sparked greater dialogue between the leaders of the warring countries, or whether the athletes brought national politics to the event - but clearly a truce was deemed necessary for the games to take place.

This "Olympic truce" did not always hold true in the modern era, and the games were cancelled due to war in 1916, 1940 and 1944. In more recent decades, as geopolitical rivals have met at international sporting events, greater oversight and care has ensured athletes promote official policy as national representatives on a global stage.

Sometimes diplomacy won the day, sometimes it didn't.

| 1914: World War One Christmas football truce - One of the most iconic and earliest illustrations of the relationship between sport, diplomacy and peace in the modern era happened in Belgium in December 1914, during a sporadic cessation of hostilities in World War One aimed mainly at tending to the dead and wounded left out in No Man's Land.

Small-scale kickabouts are said to have taken place between German and British soldiers, as one of many different activities, particularly the barter of goods. Such socialising was quickly curtailed by commanders fearing it would lessen the desire to fight - and with it the threat of harsh punishment for any man caught fraternising.

| 1956 Melbourne Olympics: USSR v Hungary water polo - The Hungarian water polo team arrived in Melbourne to be told Soviet tanks and troops had rolled into Budapest to crush an anti-Soviet uprising, which had resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths and thousands of arrests. The team had been at a pre-Olympic training camp in Czechoslovakia. …

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