Sports as a Medium of Communication, Resolution and Cultural Transference
Any even-keeled person would tell you that, in being asked to make a list of ways to transcend cultural and political boundaries, a soccer ball or baseball mitt would not surface at the top (or bottom) of an-off-the-cuff list of ways to achieve unity. So far, our attempts to create a cohesive global community have been stymied by tyrants, derisive politicking and battles over natural resources and land. Entities such as the Untied (yes, I meant untied) Nations have remained inept and ineffective in penetrating conflicts of both domestic and international stripes. The common political tropes of “working towards peace” have become tired platitudes which compel our eyes to glaze over in repulsive dismay. These ready-made remarks subliminally tell the rest of us that 1) peace will never be reached and 2) if peace is reached, it is likely short-lived or was the result of an enforced UN Agreement backed with threats (And, as the rest of us know, the United Nations is as intimidating as a field mouse). Numerous books have been written on tactics in negotiating and foreign diplomacy. Still, despite these innovations we continue to find our global community fragmented, paranoid and devoid of substantial trust.
Given the trajectory of domestic cultural differences and political instability abroad, a unique gauntlet that has already been picked up by some may entail using sports as a conduit to ease tensions and differences between cultures and countries. Mores specifically, within the United States there has been a heightened distrust for those who have immigrated here from Mexico and other Latin American Countries because of countless cases of illegal immigration. While border security needs to be shored up for national security reasons (remember, ILLEGAL immigrants ILLEGALLY cross into our country and cut ahead of those who are waiting to use proper legal channels to get in), more attention should be paid in preserving cultural ties among citizens of different cultures.
In the United States, there is a burgeoning Hispanic population, though it has been slowed by the recessing economy. Encouraged by the endless opportunities and freedoms conferred to citizens of the United States, millions of Hispanics have migrated into this country during the last third of the 20th century in hopes of ascertaining a higher quality of life. In turn, the Hispanic community has contributed much to American Society in a battery of industries including the arts, cuisine and literature. Still, the stigma of illegal immigration has expanded the cultural chasm between Hispanics and Americans.
When all else fails, whether in the American-Hispanic forum or elsewhere, why not try sports? Those who play sports are heavily engaged in it and perceive it as a seductive intersection of competition, pride and athletic ability. This is linked to the political foundation of many countries. Whether it was the United Statesboycotting the 1980 Moscow Olympics or the Bush administration, among others, trying to prevent the Cuban baseball team from playing in the 2004 Olympics, depriving countries from participating in sports has been used as a viable punishment against rogue nations who possess repellent political orthodoxies. If this is true, then sports may carry more global import than recognized by most. Since sports can be used as a punishment, well, why not as a reward? Perhaps it could be packaged as an economic or social incentive to work towards improving a particular society? The significance of sports is ultimately driven by fans who double as voting citizens. It may be possible to lubricate and hasten foreign diplomacy through sports.
Of course, there are many implicit pitfalls in this argument. Who would judge when a country should be rewarded with funding for a sport or the privilege of playing in a particular event? Does this invite further entanglements of international diplomacy? However, it may be interesting if politicians began to use sports as leverage in deals and negotiations. Politicians have tirelessly run the political gamut repeatedly, using tried methods of negotiation and polite diplomacy. To take it a step further, if politicians played sports with the diplomats of other countries, could it possibly change the discourse of discussion? If a certain commonality cannot be reached by tours, dinner meetings and such, playing a game of soccer or basketball where everyone understands the rules and shares a passion for the game may break political stalemates. Playing sports is always a positive, upbeat activity that usually evokes candor, competition, trust and respect for the opposing players.
Try to imagine mixed teams of American and Mexican diplomats playing soccer together during discussions about the Mexican War or Americans and Cubans playing baseball while discussing trade agreements. If American and Cuban diplomats are required to play against and with each other, certain cultural barriers will not be able to withstand the necessary respect for fellow teammates required in winning a game. There is a natural sense of camaraderie and openness that is not as prevalent in other activities. Differences in race, color and creed disintegrate on the field, track or black-top, because the objective is to win and have fun in the process. Of course, there are certain circumstances in which the atmosphere would not be ripe for playing sports, i.e. nuclear missile talks and such. But there may be a time in which it could be feasible for diplomats to play sports under any circumstance.
Of course, the greatest opposition against the idea of sports as a diplomatic tool is that it should be reserved for adolescents, youth, or professional athletes. Yet it is the appeal of sports that has interested many in other components of a country. Sports has helped broaden the appeal of certain countries and highlighted their importance in other fields. Perhaps the rigid, formulaic world of foreign diplomacy could use a refreshing injection of this concept.
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