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  • Writer's pictureNigel Rushman

Sport: a Weapon of Choice

Since the original promoters, the Romans, staged Gladiator combat at the Coliseum, sport has been used as a panacea or way to influence.

Not much has changed. Nation states have for years used association with sport in the hope of building positive connections with people. It is one of the top weapons in the soft power armoury.

No top tier major sports event can take place without the support of the host nation's government. The events have become too big to fly alone.

The economic impact studies produced, sometimes laughably inaccurate, ‘prove’ to gullible publics that their tax money is being spent for a greater financial return through increased tax income and expenditure. So rarely is this true, that it is surprising these studies or their authors are given much credence. There are, perhaps, a few exceptions and of course the plethora of other reasons touted for the huge contributions made from the public purse.

In reality, usually it is soft power. The feel good factor, nation branding, awareness and distraction.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. I do not subscribe to the notion of ‘Sports Washing’ which has become a popular term thrown at nations that don’t have comfortable international relations with some quarters.

I doubt that any nation that is wealthy enough to host major events or to buy major football clubs is deluded enough to think that it will convert or distract its detractors by engaging in sport.

In my view they are seeking to keep their people close to power and make a positive domestic social impact as well as gain international recognition with all the problems that brings with it.

That must surely be a good thing. Opening up societies to international scrutiny, mixing people, competitors and spectators, from different nations and cultures will surely lead to better understanding and dialogue.

Rather than berating these nations surely positive engagement, encouragement and congratulation would draw more positive results?

Soft power after all is eminently preferable to hard power and “Jaw jaw better than war war”. We should be grateful that sport provides the opportunity for people of different nations and with different backgrounds and cultures to meet and spend time understanding each other.

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