Public Diplomacy and Global Communication 2014b

Sports Diplomacy – Is it for Everybody?

There has been many talks about how major sports events can improve a countries image abroad. Many countries use such an approach, but the talks about it have become more profound with the 2012 Olympics in London and the FIFA World Cups in South Africa in 2010 and in Brazil in 2014. It has been said that the image of the UK is already really good and organizing such an event well would not have such an influence on the country’s image. But Brazil and South African are totally different story.

Brazil and South Africa are not as developed as UK is, for example, and they are still often seen as developing countries with significantly low living standards. Because of that international image, both Brazil and South Africa expected to improve their image through FIFA World Cups. One could say that the attempts by both of the countries have failed miserably. There are many reasons for that.

For example, the video clips used by different media outlets between the football games or half-times were filmed in both countries. Such an action is not extraordinary itself, but the fact that both of the countries hoped to improve their image through these video clips is. That is because many of these clips showed the everyday-life in the countries or regions where the games were held in order to show the life of regular people. Yet what the world saw from these video clips, and the reactions to these were not what the Brazilian more than the South African governments and organizers expected. The world saw the life of regular people in these two countries – people is slums, underdevelopment, poverty, et cetera. Did such images help to improve these countries image? Probably not. What the rest of the world realized was that the high development that was believed to be happening in South Africa and Brazil were not as high and far-reaching. One could argue that if these countries wanted to improve their image on an international level through major sports events, and through the media coverage that the organizers made available, they should have chosen a different perspective. For example, the video clips that were shown across the globe might have been about the nature of the countries, and not about the slums. At least a significant images of nature might have increased tourism, as was expected the World Cup would do.

Another aspect the organizing countries seemed not to realize was that no matter how good the event was, the money spent and decisions made would overshadow that achievement. Both of the countries spent huge amounts of money to be able to organize the World Cup. South Africa spent approximately 3bn[i] pounds and Brazil spent more than 11bn dollars[ii]. The money issue was more significant in Brazil, because the organizers built new football stadiums, some in regions that are highly uninhabited. Many stadiums are now disused[iii] or used for something else that football[iv]. Such developments have made people question is it right of the governments and organizers to use significant amounts of money for an event that’s outcome for the country’s image is highly unpredictable.

All in all, one could argue that the importance countries place on sports diplomacy and major sport events might not be for everybody. It might improve country’s image, but it might also do severe damage. That might be the case especially if the organizing country is considered to be developing, does not have a strong international image, or wants to improve it through one event.

[i] Meate, R., 2010, “South Africa recoups just a tenth of the £3bn cost of staging World Cup 2010”, The Telegraph, (accessed 14.05.2015)

[ii] Rapoza, K., 2014, “Bringing FIFA To Brazil Equals To Roughly 61% Of Education Budget”, Forbes (accessed 14.05.2015)

[iii] Manfred, T., 2015, “Brazil’s $3 billion World Cup stadiums are becoming white elephants a year later”, Business Insider, (accessed 13.05.2015)

[iv] Stromberg, J., 2015, “Brazil’s $900 million World Cup stadium is now being used as a parking lot”, Vox, (accessed 13.05.2015)


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One thought on “Sports Diplomacy – Is it for Everybody?

  1. Great case study, definitely points out some of the dangers of big sporting events in public diplomacy. I would add up on that note, that there are however examples where hosting such a big event have not been about improving their image, on the contrary – to prove they do not have to, in my opinion Winter Olympics in Sochi and LGBT clashes, which shown Russia’s (or Putin’s? ) disbelief in assimilating themselves with Western ideas, however big the event is, and no matter how many cameras are present.


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