The Soft Power of Sport in Service of Promoting of Geopolitical Goals of Foreign Policy (The Case of China)

Document Type : Original Article


1 Professor of International Relations, Faculty of Law & Political Science, Tehran University, Tehran, Iran.

2 PHD of International Relations, Faculty of Law & Political Science, Tehran University,Tehran, Iran


Extended Abstract     
In current world "Sport" is recognized as an important social, economic, cultural, political and international factor and element. "Sport" can be considered as the multi- dimensional phenomenon with different political, cultural and economic aspects. One can even consider it (the sport policy) as the new dimension of foreign policy. It means that "Sport" is playing a significant role in relations and interactions of Nation- States. As a matter of fact, Sport has played such an important role in international aria since the last century. If we consider "War" and "Peace" the main issue or challenge of international relations, as it before, Sport has a close relationship with both of them. Thus, Sport as a source of soft power, can be in service of foreign policy goals and some (or many) states use it to maintain of their national interests. Interestingly even in sport policy and strategy of some countries, "Sport" has increased to a higher level as an efficient and effective instrument /mechanism to help the geopolitical aspect of foreign policy, for instance in China, Qatar, Israel and recently Russia.
The methodology of current article (which is extracted from PHD thesis) is descriptive- analytical based on the fact and data collected from the written documents especially books and articles both in English and Persian. (Library Technique)  
Sport can be used in different ways in foreign policy (by states) with positive or negative effect as in follow:
A)     The positive usages of sport in foreign policy:

As a political instrument (for improving bilateral and int. relations & supporting peace)
As a diplomatic instrument (for enhancing friendship among nation – states)
As a social instrument (for increasing social coherence & national identity)

B)      The negative application of sport in foreign policy:

As a political weapon (for increasing tension & using for boycott)
As a Diplomatic Trigger mechanism (for ending peace & starting conflict)
As a social instrument (for increasing tension inside society & activating social gap)

In analysis of the sport policy & sport diplomacy of People Republic of China (PRC) and what it has done during the past half a century, we can see and recognize that there is a close relationship between two "Champs" (sphere): the champ of foreign policy of China & the champ of international sport. According to "Champ Theory" presented by French well – known social philosopher, Pierre Bourdieu, in which the theoretical foundation of this research has been based, there are interconnections & reactions between deferent Champs and  different players and agents (states, institutions, establishments & persons) try to act in various champs in order to gain and obtain capitals and achievements and finally use them to increase their positions in internal & international society and to pursuit their foreign policy goals & defend better their national interests. In such a context, PRC has endeavored hardly to use its soft power of sport in international sport area (champ), among other hard/soft/smart powers (such as economic strength, military power, political influence & etc.) in order to solve its geopolitical challenges , especially regarding Taiwan, and improve its geopolitical situation in international area. In this article two most famous examples of enacting international sport to help solving geopolitical concern (i.e Ping Pong diplomacy between China & U.S.A) and decrease geopolitical conflict with Taiwan (by using international sport, especially Olympic Formula) is reviewed and analyzed.    
With examining and scrutinizing of policy and conduct of PRC in international sport champ, especially its sport strategy towards Taiwan and using Ping Pong diplomacy with U.S.A as a coverage for formal diplomacy and make a global balance to America and Soviet Union, we reached to some conclusions as follow:

With wisely conduct of soft power of sport in international area, PRC has been able to make enormous geopolitical achievements regarding to re-defining and re- shaping of bilateral relations with the western block super power, i.e United States of America. Also China with smart use of sport in international champ, was able to control and manage the "Taiwan problem".
It seems that the strategic target of PRC by using the soft power of sport and implementing an active sport diplomacy is political exploitation and to reach geopolitical goals. It means that the sport policy of PRC is complementary element of its security strategy. Thus, the case of PRC is an extraordinary example in which the "Sport" in international area has upgraded to a highest level as a powerful political instrument with geopolitical considerations.

In the framework of the designed conceptual model, it is obvious that PRC significantly matters the "International Sport Champ" and severely endeavor to gain and obtain the maximum achievements (capitals). The main achievements that PRC pursues are international dignity, economic benefits, political influence and above all, geopolitical advantages


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Volume 17, Issue 62
June 2021
Pages 182-202
  • Receive Date: 04 December 2019
  • Revise Date: 10 March 2020
  • Accept Date: 06 April 2020
  • First Publish Date: 23 July 2021