H-Diplo Essay 122- "Sport history and diplomatic history" (An H-Diplo State of the Field Essay)

George Fujii's picture

H-Diplo Essay No. 122

An H-Diplo State of the Field Essay


Published on 17 December 2014


H-Diplo Essay Editor:  Diane Labrosse

H-Diplo Web and Production Editor:  George Fujii


“Sport history and diplomatic history.”

URL: http://tiny.cc/E122 or http://h-diplo.org/essays/PDF/E122.pdf


Essay by Heather L. Dichter, Ithaca College

In June 2014 the Journal of American History published a discussion on the field of sport history by Amy Bass, Professor of History at the College of New Rochelle. Other notable historians, including Rob Ruck, Susan Cahn, and current North American Society for Sport History president Daniel Nathan, contributed responses to Bass’s article. In her state of the field essay, Bass notes that “sports scholarship has an enormous body of literature that, regardless of theoretical and methodological perspective, offers dramatic and interesting narratives.[1] Bass raises the question whether a focus on certain issues, such as the intersection of race and sport, “somewhat ironically push[es] the field into more rigidly nationalistic constructions?”[2] While covering many areas within sport history in the essay, Bass almost entirely excluded diplomatic history form her discussion of the state of the field. This omission is a shame because in the past fifteen years much work has been done in the area of sport and diplomacy or international relations.


Although the intersection of the two fields of sport history and diplomatic history, utilizing primary sources from both governments and sport organizations, is relatively recent, the scholarship has been vibrant and wide-ranging across many topics and countries. In a 2012 commentary in Diplomacy & Statecraft, Stuart Murray claims that “sport and diplomacy is largely unexplored,” focusing more on case studies than a broad theoretical exploration.[3] Murray is correct in noting that much of the research has been published in article rather than monograph form, including Penelope Kissoudi’s “Sport, Politics and International Relations in the Twentieth Century.[4] Yet, that fact alone should not obscure the extent to which scholars have been studying this field. (In addition, many sport historians are employed in departments where articles – and not books – constitute the tenure requirements.)  This essay will provide an overview of the state of the field of sport and diplomacy, considering this intersection quite broadly.[5] Sport history is addressing many of the areas which interest diplomatic historians, including colonialism, military history, and public diplomacy. I have also included many points of interest which are ripe for further investigation. I hope other scholars will be encouraged to include sport in their diplomatic history or international relations into their sport history.


Sport history, contrary to what some historians might believe, is not a new field. Historians working on sport formally organized with the creation of the North American Society for Sport History (NASSH) in 1972, and scholars in other countries have developed comparable organizations, including the British Society of Sports History, the Australian Society for Sports History, and the International Society for the History of Physical Education and Sport. Sport studies involving gender or race have, for the past few decades, been particularly strong, which Bass and the other discussants highlight in the Journal of American History. Yet in the introduction to a special issue of the Journal of Contemporary History focused on sport, Jeffrey Hill states that within sport history, “much of its emphasis has been on the politics of sport rather than the contribution of sport to wider political processes. [6]  As I hope to demonstrate, many scholars have been working on projects which respond to Hill’s criticism, particularly with respect to the Olympic Games and other international sporting events. The great paradox of international sport is that it was founded in an era of internationalism with those ideas being central to the Olympic movement, yet it has long been – and remains today – highly nationalistic. While countries have long used sport to assert their strength, in order to accomplish those goals these states must engage with other countries and the international system as a whole.


Many scholars have studied the spread of sport as part of colonialism or a form of cultural imperialism. The spread of several sports – soccer, cricket, rugby, and field hockey, among others – from Europe to Africa, the Caribbean, and other parts of the world, was seen by many of the imperial powers as a way of civilizing the native population.[7] In a special issue of the International Journal of the History of Sport, Evelyne Combeau-Mari examines sport during the French colonial era in Madagascar.[8]  Laurent Dubois’ excellent book on France and the World Cup places soccer, and especially the French national team, Les Bleus, within the context of the country’s colonial past. The relationship between the French metropole and both its overseas departments and former colonies has shaped both the composition of the French national soccer team and identity politics among citizens and residents of France and its overseas territories.[9]


The United States, too, used sport as a form of cultural imperialism. Baseball gained a foothold in Asia in the late nineteenth century through missionaries and educators.[10] Cubans readily played baseball as a direct form of opposition to their Spanish colonial rulers, who promoted bullfighting and, for a short time, banned baseball in the years leading up to the Spanish-American War.[11]  This adoption of modern sport by colonies or states within a power’s sphere of influence imbued sport, from the beginning, with political meaning and laid the groundwork for these states to use sport for such obvious political goals during and after decolonization.


The legacies of colonialism within sport have been a recent and exciting field of scholarly research. In South Africa the colonial and Apartheid legacy shaped which racial groups and classes played soccer, rugby, or cricket. Douglas Booth’s groundbreaking The Race Game: Sport and Politics in South Africa began what has become a thriving area of scholarship examining the diplomatic isolation of southern African Apartheid states, particularly through international sport organizations severely curtailing their participation for three decades.[12] Aviston Downes has demonstrated how the Commonwealth States’ 1977 Gleaneagles Agreement was a multi-governmental effort to prevent Commonwealth states from participating in sport competitions against apartheid South Africa.[13] Commonwealth states were not the only countries attempting to isolate South Africa and Rhodesia athletically; Tanzania led several Organization of African Unity states in a boycott of the 1972 Munich Olympics until Rhodesia’s invitation was rescinded.[14] African states fought against the Euro-centrism of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), which as late as 1966 forced the continental champion from Africa to play a further qualification game  against the Asia and Oceania champion for the one place (out of sixteen) allocated to both continents.[15]


Diplomatic and military scholars would be wise to take into consideration governments’ views and actions regarding sport, just as the use of diplomatic correspondence enhances the work of sport scholars. Three books have explored the role of sport and the military in three of the biggest global powers: Wanda Wakefield for the United States, Tony Mason and Eliza Riedi for Great Britain, and William D. Frank for Russia and the Soviet Union.[16]Frank highlights the importance of skiing in the Russian Civil War and the Second World War, as well as the 1974 World Biathlon Championships in Minsk, when this event took place on Soviet soil for the first time. While it is clear this event shaped the development of the sport in the USSR, Franks does not address the role it played within Soviet public diplomacy efforts. It would not be surprising, drawing on the work of Jenifer Parks[17] if 1974 World Biathlon Championships served as a precursor to the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow in terms of public diplomacy. Frank’s excellent history of skiing also makes the Soviet Union’s efforts in 1945 to ban skiing in occupied Germany far more understandable. It was not simply Finland’s successes against the Soviet Union during the Winter War of 1939-40 which prompted this sentiment but in fact the tremendous promotion of skiing within the Soviet military and among the population as a whole.[18]


The place of sport within militaries should continue to be an area for scholars to examine. Mason and Riedi demonstrate the long history of elite athletes within the services, and how military sport teams were often used to promote the military domestically. They even note how in late 1941 a touring team of professional footballers in the British armed forces played six matches in Turkey “as part of British attempts to persuade Turkey to abandon its policy of ‘benevolent neutrality’ towards Germany.[19] Wakefield notes how inter-allied contests served to demonstrate the strength and masculinity of the American doughboys in the late stages of the First World War as well as providing a bit of inter-allied rivalry during the Second World War. Many states continue to have programs for elite athletes to remain within the military yet compete for the country, including the United States’ World Class Athlete Program (WCAP) and Great Britain’s Combined Service Sport Board. With athletes such as the Royal Air Force’s Stuart Benson, who appeared  at the 2014 Farnborough Air Show just five months after his fifth-place finish at the Sochi Olympics, to promote the sport of bobsled as well as military careers, these kinds of relationships continue to provide examples of where sport history and military and diplomatic history intersect. These high profile athletes serve the public diplomacy goals of both states and the military at the domestic and international levels, yet no scholars have examined the more recent relationship between sport and the military. 


Over the past few decades the field of diplomatic history has expanded from examining merely the official relations between states, led by governments and diplomats, to encompass relations more broadly. Scholars now consider the role of non-state actors, particularly private organizations and international and non-governmental organizations, to fall within a state’s soft power activities. Other diplomatic historians have taken up issues of culture, gender, and the environment alongside issues of state security and inter-state relations. The Palgrave Advances in International History provides an overview of these topics as they intersect with diplomatic and international history.[20]Jeremi Suri’s contribution on non-governmental organizations and non-state actors briefly addresses sport, particularly the International Olympic Committee, and Akira Iriye includes the terrorist attack at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games in passing, but sport is otherwise not mentioned in this recent survey of the field.


Taking up these ideas, Geoffrey Allen Pigman’s recent Diplomacy & Statecraft article provides an excellent explanation of the many ways in which international sport “emerges as a quintessential case study demonstrating the part that public diplomacy plays in contemporary diplomacy.[21]Pigman distinguishes two ways in which international sport functions within diplomacy: as a government tool of diplomacy, and “sport-as-diplomacy” between many different actors within the organization of international sporting events. These two themes emerge – at times more strongly – in much of the works discussed in the rest of this essay. In this vein, with soccer as the world’s most popular sport, it is not surprising that FIFA has been the international federation examined most frequently.[22]


Beginning in the late 1990s works on sport and politics focused on domestic politics and problems, with limited consideration of a state’s relationship with foreign powers. Pierre Arnaud and James Riordan’s Sport and International Politics: The Impact of Fascism and Communism on Sport addressed western European states and the Soviet Union during the first half of the twentieth century, with only the chapter on Franco’s Spain moving past 1945.[23] The book primarily addresses the national or domestic impact within each country of international politics. While excellent, only about half of the chapters use archival materials from foreign ministries, and there is no treatment of eastern European states (aside from the USSR), most of which confronted significant communist and fascist movements during the interwar period. The following year Riordan and Arnd Krüger’s The International Politics of Sport in the 20th Century revisited some of the same topics, particularly communism and fascism, although this anthology moves past 1945 in its thematic coverage.[24] While chapters introduce issues central to sport in the latter half of the century, some of the chapters (especially on gender, disability, and homosexuality) do not demonstrate a clear relationship to, or impact from, international politics. 


Historians have investigated the actions of the various sport organizations in terms of highly politicized events, such as the 1936 Olympic Games held in Nazi Germany, which has been the focus of many books and articles.[25]  The movement to boycott these Games appalled most of the members of the international sport community, but some statesmen attempted to become involved in these debates. Arnd Krüger and William Murray’s anthology provides a broad survey of the boycott debates across eight European states, the United States, and Japan, as well as Germany’s efforts to thwart these movements.[26]  While the book enables comparisons to be made across different political regimes and international relations, all of the contributions rely on sport organization records and the popular press rather than government documents.


One of the earliest monographs to combine official government records with sport documents was Peter Beck’s Scoring for Britain: International Football and International Politics, 1900-1939, which serves as an excellent model of sport and diplomatic history.  [27]  Beck’s examination of British soccer demonstrates the powerful role of sport – and especially soccer in Britain’s case – within international relations. Beck particularly emphasizes the relationship between the Foreign Office and the Football Association in the 1930s and the importance ascribed to matches against fascist Italy (the reigning World Cup and Olympic champion at the time) and Nazi Germany. 


In 2004 Roger Levermore and Adrian Budd published the first anthology on sport and international relations, emphasizing the growing importance of non-governmental organizations.  [28]  In their introduction Levermore and Budd note the need for serious scholarship on sport and international relations and hoped their volume would “kick-start a debate on the mutual impacts of sport and international society, from within the IR academic discipline.[29] The first half of the book addresses the relationship between sport and various themes (capitalism, gender, doping) from theoretical standpoints, while the second half takes up more specific examples with a largely British focus, which is not surprising considering that all of the contributors are from British institutions. 


Scholars in the past decade responded to Hill’s and Levermore and Budd’s calls to examine sport’s impact within and on the international system. Barbara Keys, like Beck, focuses on the period before the Second World War in Globalizing Sport: National Rivalry and International Community in the 1930s.[30] Keys compares the American, German, and Soviet actions regarding international sport in the 1930s, demonstrating how all three countries, with vastly different political regimes, contributed to shaping the direction of international sport throughout the twentieth century. In each case – the United States hosting the 1932 Olympic Games, Nazi Germany hosting the 1936 Olympic Games, and the Soviet Union flirting with international sport federation membership in the 1930s – Keys explores the tensions between nationalism and internationalism.


Most people living during the Cold War acknowledged how politically charged international sport had become, but rarely did scholars broach these issues. David Kanin’s A Political History of the Olympic Games, published in 1981 in the wake of the boycott of the Moscow Olympics, argued that “calls for the separation of sport and politics are futile” because the Olympic Games “have thrived on ties to global affairs.[31] As the Communist bloc began to fall, serious academic work regarding sport behind the Iron Curtain began to appear, notably by James Riordan.[32]  Most early histories of sport and politics, however, relied on material from sport organizations and political papers. Many sport organizations and their leaders attempted to promote sport as occupying a wholly separate sphere from politics. Even Kanin, who claimed that as a political analyst for the CIA he had “access to information on enabling him to present a unique perspective on the events surrounding the 1980 Moscow Olympics and the U.S. boycott effort,”[33] includes no archival sources (even publicly available materials) in his work.


With the Cold War influencing global politics for nearly half a century, it is not surprising that since its end the Cold War has been perhaps the most researched area within the intersection of sport and international relations. The battle between democracy and communism, embodied by the U.S.-Soviet and West German-East German rivalries, was felt by more than just athletes and politicians because this Cold War confrontation was brought into the average person’s living room thanks to the rapid expansion of television beginning in the 1950s.  [34]  In his history of one of the most popular soccer clubs in Russia, Robert Edelman notes that throughout the years of Spartak Moscow’s success, the team embarked on several international tours and, beginning in the 1950s, contributed many athletes and managers for Soviet national and Olympic teams as part of the broader effort to demonstrate the superiority of the communist system.[35]  Harold Wilson shows how Nicolae Ceauşescu, attempting to demonstrate Romania’s ability to forge its own path within the communist world, refused to follow the Soviet lead and boycott the 1984 Olympic Games, making Romania the only European communist state to participate in the Los Angeles Olympics.  [36]  In the case of the two German states, Martin Geyer and Uta Balbier have each explored the importance of sport in the German-German rivalry during the Cold War.[37] Stephen Wagg and David Andrews’s excellent anthology, East Plays West: Sport and the Cold War, emphasizes how the Cold War shaped not only the sporting events themselves but also the cultural meaning ascribed to them.[38]


The State Department, not surprisingly, consciously used sport to promote the American way of life during the tense decades of the early Cold War. Russ Crawford’s reliance on the domestic popular press, literature, and television from the period supports role of sports in the creation and reinforcement by the American government of a normative American way of life that stood in contrast to the communist menace.[39] Crawford argues that the inclusion of non-white athletes, such as tennis star Althea Gibson, on foreign tours helped refute Soviet claims of racism and inequality in a still segregated United States – but Crawford fails to utilize any archival records to support Gibson’s claims that the State Department specifically sent her abroad in the aftermath of the brutal 1955 killing of Emmett Till, a Chicago African-American teenager murdered in Mississippi, in order to demonstrate the opportunities available to African Americans. While the lack of corroborating materials from the State Department supporting Gibson’s (likely true) claims are a weakness of Crawford’s book, other scholars such as Damion Thomas and Kevin Witherspoon have delved into the government records to demonstrate the extent to which the State Department supported these type of sport exchanges during the Cold War as a form of soft power.[40] Toby Rider also demonstrates how the U.S. government attempted to counter the “communist ‘sports offensive’” in the 1950s by supporting Hungarian and other eastern European athletes who had fled their now-communist homelands.[41] The Cold War also plays a major role in many of the chapters in Diplomatic Games: Sport, Statecraft, and International Relations Since 1945, which Andrew Johns and I co-edited.[42]


National rivalries are not limited to the Cold War, and scholars of other parts of the world are also examining the role of sport in foreign relations. H. E. Chehabi traces the long history of sport diplomacy between the U.S. and Iran, dating to 1950.[43]  More can be written about this subject since the this diplomacy continues today, with the State Department’s blog promoting the August 2014 visit of Iran’s men’s national volleyball team to California for a four-game friendly series.[44]  The importance of cricket in South Asia often leads to comments regarding the sport’s role in relations between India and Pakistan as well as India’s relations with other countries, including Stuart Croft’s investigation of the role of “cricket diplomacy” in Indo-Pak relations and Kausik Bandyopadhyay’s study of India’s 2004 Friendship Tour of Pakistan.[45] However, these efforts were negated by the November 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai (much in the way the erection of the Berlin Wall in August 1961 stopped the East-West German sporting relationship). Only in 2014 did India and Pakistan agree to schedule the first cricket series since the Mumbai attacks.[46] Cricket is often referenced with respect to India’s relationship with Australia.[47]  The move of the International Cricket Council headquarters from its longtime home at Lord’s Cricket Ground in London to Dubai is illustrative of the growth and financial strength of the global south, and its increased strength in international sport.[48]  As with other areas, our understanding of cricket’s place in South Asian relations will only increase as the diplomatic records become available.


With the importance ascribed to sport around the globe, some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have incorporated sport as one of the activities through which to achieve their goals, and other NGOs have been established specifically with the aim of using sport for development. Ingrid Beutler, a member of the United Nations Office on Sport for Development and Peace, traces the history of the UN incorporating play, and later sport, into its understanding of fundamental rights of children around the world, and how the UN is incorporating sport into its programs.[49]  In the words of Bruce Kidd, sport for development and peace has become a “new social movement.[50]  These types of programs are not without problems, with many scholars raising questions about their overall aims and actions.[51] These sport development programs should be included in the broader treatments of international aid and diplomacy, although the fact that many programs operate, as Kidd notes, “beyond the radar of most national governments’ domestic and foreign politics” presents additional challenges to both the people working for these programs as well as scholars.[52]


Another growing area within sport studies is the examination of the effects of hosting major sporting events, including the bidding, preparations for, and legacies of hosting.[53] Scholars in geography, urban studies, environmental studies, and sociology have all addressed the topic of hosting mega-events, and some historians have included the diplomatic efforts involved in these processes. Jessamyn Abel’s recent article on Japan’s use of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics to achieve a greater international standing began a long-term project of using sport within the country’s diplomatic efforts.[54]  Kevin Witherspoon’s Before the Eyes of the World: Mexico and the 1968 Olympic Games details the many diplomatic and domestic problems which confronted Mexico City, the first developing country selected to host the Olympic Games.[55] The Mexicans first had to win the bidding process against several strong contenders, then confronted concerns regarding the high altitude of the city, South African participation, the supposed amateurism of Soviet bloc athletes, and, like many other countries in 1968, an active student movement, one that in this case resulted in a bloody massacre just days before the opening ceremony. Kay Schiller and Christopher Young’s examination of the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, from the bidding process through the preparations for the Games themselves, and the terrorist attack on the Israeli athletes and coaches, addresses the Federal Republic of Germany’s contentious relationship with East Germany as well as West Germany’s relations with both Israel and Arab states after the Games.[56]  Xu Guoqi, in Olympic Dreams: China and Sports, 1895-2008, demonstrates China’s long desire to host the Olympic Games since its adoption of western sport.[57] Particularly through ping-pong diplomacy with the United States in the 1970s, and especially through efforts to host the Olympic Games, sport became “a key tool in Beijing’s all-out campaign for international prestige, status, and legitimacy.”[58]


Australia’s recent declassification of documents reveals the United States’ unsuccessful efforts to convince the Australian government to boycott the 1980 Olympic Games.[59] As this and other archival openings indicate, there are many projects for future researchers. Arguments against major sporting events being held in countries with significant human rights violations and repressive governments, such as the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, the 2012 European soccer championships in Poland and Ukraine, or the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, while taken up in the popular press, will still need a few decades to pass before the government files are declassified. Even though it will be some time until government files are made available, scholars have started to assess the role of these mega-events within cultural or public diplomacy.[60]  In the meantime, the websites and Twitter accounts for many foreign offices promote these international sport contacts, hinting at what materials future scholars will be able to find in the diplomatic archives.[61]


Many of the cities bidding to hold the Olympics want to host the Games in order to raise the international profile of the city and attract more visitors. This was part of the rationale behind Calgary’s several Winter Olympic bids (finally receiving the 1988 Games), Salt Lake City (again, several bids until the successful bid for 2002), and Barcelona (1992 Summer Olympics). Seoul’s hosting of the 1988 Summer Games is viewed as one of – if not the – most successful examples of showcasing a city to the world, and this was clearly part of the government’s plans, which also included hosting the 1986 Asian Games.[62] Heads of state or members of royal families have appeared more frequently at the final presentations to the IOC to help support the bid (Vladimir Putin successfully for Sochi 2014; unsuccessfully by Barack Obama for Chicago 2016 and Crown Prince Felipe for Madrid 2020), and governments are required to provide a confirmation of support that covers both financial and immigration guarantees to the IOC. Governments are clearly involved in both the bidding stages and preparations for sport mega-events, but scholars have rarely considered how hosting these mega-events fits into government public diplomacy plans.[63]  Obviously legacy studies have primarily focused on the events which have happened in the past twenty-five years, a time for which most government records are still classified. When scholars have addressed this topic, they rely on news stories rather than government documents.[64] As these materials become available and scholars use them and the public diplomacy literature alongside the sport organization and media coverage, it will be interesting to see how the various national governments sought to use the bidding for and hosting of these mega-events, and how often diplomats facilitated the efforts of the bidding committees. Scholars have begun this work for earlier events, as with Kay Schiller and Christopher Young’s work on the 1972 Munich Olympics, Sandra Collins’s study of  the cancelled 1940 Tokyo Olympics, and Jenifer Parks’s work on the 1980 Moscow Olympics,[65] but there is still much more to be done. Oliver Butler traces the process within FIFA by which Japan and Korea were able to organize the only co-hosted World Cup, overcoming their historical animosity,[66] yet there must have been significant behind the scenes diplomatic discussions throughout the bidding process and actual organization of the World Cup that has yet to be revealed.


It is not just hosting the Olympic Games or FIFA World Cup that political regimes want to host in order to increase their prestige or demonstrate their strength on the global stage.   Scholars have explored these issues with respect to the 1951 Pan-American Games in Buenos Aires, the 1966 Central American and Caribbean Games in Puerto Rico, the 1996 South Asia Cricket World Cup, and the 2011 Rugby World Cup, for example.[67] A recent edited collection, The Triple Asian Olympics ‑ Asia Rising: The Pursuit of National Identity, International Recognition and Global Esteem, brings together several scholars working on the East Asian cities that have hosted major international sporting events to consider the actions of the region as a whole within a global setting.[68] As the emerging BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) and other states such as Qatar host major international sporting events, many possibilities for future projects abound, particularly as materials become available. The increasing media coverage of the challenges that each of these states faced with their organizational efforts, along with the tactics of dubious nature used by some countries in the bidding process to host these events likely have a wealth of information buried in the diplomatic correspondence. Even a host such as Vancouver, with Canada being a far less controversial choice than Russia or Qatar, still prompted diplomats to discuss the issue, including the cables from the U.S. Consul in Vancouver regarding security threats revealed by WikiLeaks.[69]


Indeed, security has become a central component in the organizing of mega-events, and one that involves close partnership with the government and military.[70] One element of hosting mega-events which has contributed to the massive cost increase is security. After Black September’s hostage-taking of members of the Israeli team in the Olympic Village in Munich in 1972, security at the Olympic Games increased, in part contributing to the financial disaster of the Montreal Olympics in 1976. Security costs for mega-events again increased following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, with a direct impact on Salt Lake City’s 2002 Olympics and especially Athens’ 2004 Games, and the London bombings of July 7, 2005 – just one day after the announcement that London would host the 2012 Summer Games. With the expanded international coordination in surveillance and terrorism monitoring, this is a growing area of study, as demonstrated by two special journal issues on the issue of sport and surveillance.[71]


With all of the exorbitant costs and discussions in the news about post-event venues and their impact, many scholars have been studying the legacies of mega-events, particularly the Olympic Games and FIFA World Cup. Since Lillehammer’s emphasis on holding an environmentally friendly games in 1994 – particularly in the wake of the lack of environmental concern by the Albertville 1992 organizers – the bid committees and later the organizing committees for these mega-events tout the legacies of these events in their planning materials.[72]  The London 2012 bid emphasized a wide range of legacies, from venues to participation to urban renewal, from the beginning of the bid through the conclusion of the Games themselves. Scholars from a variety of disciplines examine the rhetoric of these legacies and the challenges of proving positive legacies in Leveraging Legacies from Sports Mega-Events: Concepts and Cases, edited by Jonathan Grix; Olympic Aspirations: Realised and Unrealised, edited by J. A. Mangan and Mark Dyreson and originally published as a special issue of The International Journal of the History of Sport; International Sports Events: Impacts, Experiences and Identities, edited by Richard Shipway and Alan Fyall;[73] and several journal articles.[74] The majority of scholars agree on the fact that the claims of the bid and organizing committees cannot be measured and that hosting these mega-events does not result in a significant increase in mass participation in sport or other proposed legacies, such as an increase in tourism.

In 2002, the newsletter of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR) published a research guide by Barbara Keys on sport and diplomatic history. In it, Keys notes how diplomatic historians had largely neglected sport topics even though “the study of sport and foreign affairs is a field ripe with opportunities.[75] A survey of the recent issues of Diplomatic History reveals only three articles published on sport since 2000, including one by Keys.[76]  Diplomacy & Statecraft has only had two articles on sport (one of which was Murray’s commentary),[77] and, despite the of a role which the Cold War plays in sport history, Cold War History has only published five articles on the topic, three of which revolve around the 1980 Moscow Olympics.[78] Other journals have organized special issues on sport and diplomacy, including Sport in Society (one in 2008 and another in 2014), The Hague Journal of Diplomacy (2013), International Area Studies Review (2013), and a future issue of Diplomacy & Statecraft (2016). Yet, if one considers all of the books and journals across a wide variety of historical areas, it is clear that sport and diplomacy is a lively and growing subfield. In keeping Amy Bass’s assessment of sport history as a whole, the study of sport and diplomacy is a thriving field, but one which has a great potential for further lines of inquiry. Even though the combination of government and sport organization archival materials has been a relatively recent development, these works serve as excellent models to scholars who want to explore the many areas of sport and diplomatic history.



© 2014 H-Net:  Humanities and Social Sciences Online


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.


[1] Amy Bass, “State of the Field: Sports History and the Cultural Turn,” Journal of American History 101, no. 1 (June 2014), 154.

[2] Ibid., 169.

[3] Stuart Murray, “The Two Halves of Sports-Diplomacy,” Diplomacy & Statecraft 23 (2012), 576-592.

[4] P. Kissoudi, “Sport, Politics and International Relations in the Twentieth Century,” The International Journal of the History of Sport 25/13 (Nov. 2008), 1689-1706.

[5] The following historiography covers only English-language literature.  As Mark Dryerson noted in a 2011 forum on European sports historiography, the field of sport history is much more extensive in English-speaking countries.  Mark Dryerson, “Mapping Sport History and the History of Sport in Europe,” Journal of Sport History 38, no. 3 (Fall 2011), 397-405.

[6] Jeffrey Hill, “Introduction: Sport and Politics,” Journal of Contemporary History 38, no. 3 (2003), 355.

[7] J.A. Mangan, Athleticism in the Victorian and Edwardian Public School: The Emergence and Consolidation of an Educational Ideology (London: Frank Cass, 1981); Aviston Downes, “From Boys to Men: Colonial Education, Cricket and Masculinity in the Caribbean, 1870-c.1920,” International Journal of the History of Sport 22, no. 1 (2005), 3-21; Shoko Yamada, “‘Traditions’ and Cultural Production: Character Training at the Achimota School in Colonial Ghana,” History of Education 38, no. 1 (2009), 29-59; Jonty Winch, “Unlocking the Cape Code: Establishing British Football in South Africa,” Sport in History 30, no. 4 (2010), 501-522.

[8] Evelyne Combeau-Mari, special issue, “Colonial Sport in Madagascar, 1896-1960,” International Journal of the History of Sport 28, no. 12 (2011), 1557-1729.

[9] Laurent Dubois, Soccer Empire: The World Cup and the Future of France (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010).

[10] Gerald R. Gems, The Athletic Crusade: Sport and American Cultural Imperialism (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2006); Thomas W. Zeiler, Ambassadors in Pinstripes: The Spalding World Baseball Tour and the Birth of the American Empire (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006); Robert Elias, The Empire Strikes Out: How Baseball Sold U.S. Foreign Policy and Promoted the American Way Abroad (New York: The New Press, 2010);  Sayuri Guthrie-Shimizu, Transpacific Field of Dreams: How Baseball Linked the United States and Japan in Peace and War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012).

[11] Louis A. Pérez, Jr., “Between Baseball and Bullfighting: The Quest for Nationality in Cuba, 1868-1898,” Journal of American History 81, no. 2 (1994), 493-517; Gems, Athletic Crusade.

[12] Douglas Booth, The Race Game: Sport and Politics in South Africa (London: Frank Cass, 1998); Peter Alegi, Laduma! Soccer, Politics and Society in South Africa (Scottsville: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2004); Andrew Novak, “Rhodesia’s ‘Rebel and Racist’ Olympic Team: Athletic Glory, National Legitimacy and the Clash of Politics and Sport,” International Journal of the History of Sport 23, no. 8 (2006), 1369-1388; Bruce K. Murray, “The Sports Boycott and Cricket: The Cancellation of the 1971/72 South African Tour of Australia,” South African Historical Journal 49, no. 1 (2003), 162-171.

[13] Aviston D. Downes, “Sport and International Diplomacy: The Case of the Commonwealth Caribbean and the Anti-Apartheid Campaign, 1959-1992,” The Sports Historian 22, no. 2 (2002), 23-45.

[14] Hamad S. Ndee, “Sport as a Political Tool: Tanzania and the Liberation of Africa,” International Journal of the History of Sport 22, no. 4 (2005), 671-688.

[15] Paul Darby, “Africa and the 'World' Cup: FIFA Politics, Eurocentrism and Resistance,” International Journal of the History of Sport 22, no. 5 (2005), 883-905.

[16] Wanda Ellen Wakefield, Playing to Win: Sports and the American Military, 1898-1945 (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997); Tony Mason and Eliza Riedi, Sport and the Military: The British Armed Forces 1880-1960 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010); William D. Frank, Everyone to Skis! Skiing in Russia and the Rise of Soviet Biathlon (DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press, 2013).

[17] Jenifer Parks, “Welcoming the ‘Third World’: Soviet Sport Diplomacy, Developing Nations, and the Olympic Games,” in Diplomatic Games: Sport, Statecraft, and International Relations Since 1945, ed. Heather L. Dichter and Andrew L. Johns (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky 2014), 85-113.

[18] Heather Dichter, “‘Strict measures must be taken’: Wartime Planning and the Allied Control of Sport in Occupied Germany,” Stadion 34, no. 2 (2008), 193-217.

[19] Mason and Riedi, 191.

[20] Patrick Finney, ed., Palgrave Advances in International History (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005).

[21] Geoffrey Allen Pigman, “International Sport and Diplomacy's Public Dimension: Governments, Sporting Federations and the Global Audience,” Diplomacy & Statecraft 25, no. 1 (2014), 96.

[22] Alan Tomlinson, “The supreme leader sails on: leadership, ethics and governance in FIFA,” Sport in Society 17, no. 9 (2014), 1155‑1169; Heather L. Dichter, “Kicking around International Sport: West Germany’s Return to the International Community through Football,” International Journal of the History of Sport 30, no. 17 (2013), 2031-2051.

[23] Pierre Arnaud and James Riordan, Sport and International Politics: The Impact of Fascism and Communism on Sport (London: E & FN Spon, 1998).

[24] Jim Riordan and Arnd Krüger, The International Politics of Sport in the 20th Century (London: E & FN Spon, 1999).

[25] Richard D. Mandell, The Nazi Olympics (New York: MacMillan, 1971); Duff Hart-Davis, Hitler’s Games: The 1936 Olympics (New York: Harper & Row, 1986); Bruce Kidd, “Canadian Opposition to the 1936 Olympics in Germany,” Canadian Journal of History of Sport and Physical Education. 9, no. 2 (1978), 20-40; John Lucas, “Ernest Lee Jahn>

[26] Arnd Krüger and William Murray, eds., The Nazi Olympics: Sport, Politics, and Appeasement in the 1930s (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2003).

[27] Peter Beck, Scoring for Britain:  International Football and International Politics, 1900-1939 (London:  Frank Cass, 1999).

[28] Roger Levermore and Adrian Budd, ed. Sport and International Relations: An Emerging Relationship (London: Routledge, 2004), 9.

[29] Ibid., 7.

[30] Barbara J. Keys, Globalizing Sport: National Rivalry and International Community in the 1930s (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2006).

[31] David Kanin’s A Political History of the Olympic Games (Boulder: Westview Press, 1981), ix.

[32] James Riordan, Sport, Politics, and Communism (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1991); Victor Peppard and James Riordan, Playing Politics: Soviet Sport Diplomacy to 1992 (Greenwich, CT: JAI Press, 1993).

[33] Kanin, A Political History, iii.

[34] Joseph M. Turrini, “‘It Was Communism Versus the Free World’: The USA-USSR Dual Track Meet Series and the Development of Track and Field in the United States, 1958-1985,” Journal of Sport History 28, no. 3 (2001), 427-471.

[35] Robert Edelman, Spartak Moscow: A History of the People’s Team in the Workers’ State (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2009).

[36] Harold E. Wilson, Jr., “The Golden Opportunity: Romania’s Political Manipulation of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games,” Olympika 3 (1994), 83-97.

[37] Martin H. Geyer, “On the Road to a German ‘Postnationalism’? Athletic Competition between the Two German States in the Era of Konrad Adenauer,” German Politics and Society 25, no. 2 (2007), 140-167; Uta Balbier, “‘A Game, a Competition, an Instrument?’: High Performance, Cultural Diplomacy and German Sport from 1950 to 1972,” International Journal of the History of Sport 26, no. 4 (2009), 539-555.

[38] Stephen Wagg and David L. Andrews, eds., East Plays West: Sport and the Cold War (London: Routledge, 2007).

[39] Russ Crawford, The Use of Sports to Promote the American Way of Life During the Cold War: Cultural Propaganda, 1945-1963 (Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 2008).

[40] Damion Thomas, “Playing the Race Card’: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Integration of Sports,” in East Plays West: Sport and the Cold War, ed. Stephen Wagg and David L. Andrews (London: Routledge, 2007), 207-221; Damion L. Thomas, Globetrotting: African American Athletes and Cold War Politics (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2012); Kevin B. Witherspoon, “Going ‘to the Fountainhead’: Black American Athletes as Cultural Ambassadors in Africa, 1970–1971,” International Journal of the History of Sport 30, no. 13 (2013), 1508-1522; Kevin B. Witherspoon, “‘Fuzz Kids’ and ‘Musclemen’: The US-Soviet Basketball Rivalry,” in Diplomatic Games: Sport, Statecraft, and International Relations Since 1945, ed. Heather L. Dichter and Andrew L. Johns (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky 2014), 297-326.

[41] Toby C. Rider, “Political Warfare in Helsinki: American Covert Strategy and the Union of Free Eastern European Sportsmen,” International Journal of the History of Sport 30, no. 13 (2013), 1493-1507; Toby C. Rider, “The Olympic Games and the Secret Cold War: The U.S. Government and the Propaganda Campaign Against Communist Sport, 1950-1960” (Ph.D. diss., University of Western Ontario, 2011), vi.

[42] Heather L. Dichter and Andrew L. Johns, ed. Diplomatic Games: Sport, Statecraft, and International Relations since 1945 (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky 2014).

[43] H.E. Chehabi, “Sport diplomacy between the United States and Iran,” Diplomacy & Statecraft 12, no. 1 (2001), 89-106.

[44] Samuel Werberg, “Volleyball Diplomacy Strengthens U.S.-Iranian Relations,” DipNote, 11 August 2014, https://blogs.state.gov/stories/2014/08/11/volleyball-diplomacy-strengthens-us-iranian-relations (accessed 5 September 2014).

[45] Stuart Croft, “South Asia’s arms control process: cricket diplomacy and the composite dialogue,” International Affairs 81, no. 5 (2005), 1039-1060; Kausik Bandyopadhyay, “Feel Good, Goodwill and India's Friendship Tour of Pakistan, 2004: Cricket, Politics and Diplomacy in Twenty-First-Century India,” The International Journal of the History of Sport 25, no. 12 (2008), 1654-1670.

[46] Heather Dichter, “‘A game of political ice hockey’: NATO Restrictions on East German Sport Travel in the Aftermath of the Berlin Wall,” in Diplomatic Games: Sport, Statecraft and International Relations since 1945, ed. Heather Dichter and Andrew Johns. (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, August 2014), 27-29; “Pakistan and India schedule first cricket series since 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks,” 15 May 2004, ABC News, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-05-15/pakistan-and-india-to-resume-play/5454146 (accessed 4 September 2014).

[47] Brian Stoddart, “The Centrality of Cricket in Indo-Australian relations; India, Australia and the ‘Cricket Imaginary’,” International Journal of the History of Sport 25, no. 12 (2008), 1671-1685; Peter Mayer and Purnendra Jain “Beyond Cricket: Australia–India Evolving Relations,” Australian Journal of Political Science 45, no. 1 (2010), 133-148.  Mayer and Jain, however, only mention the two countries’ “mutual love of cricket” rather than actually explore the role of the sport in the states’ diplomatic relations.

[48] Fahad Mustafa, “Cricket and globalization: global processes and the imperial game,” Journal of Global History 8 (2013), 318-341; Paul Dietschy, “Making football global? FIFA, Europe, and the non-European football world, 1912-74,” Journal of Global History 8 (2013), 279-298; Paul Darby, “Africa and the ‘World’ Cup: FIFA Politics, Eurocentrism and Resistance,” International Journal of the History of Sport 22, no. 5 (2005), 883-905.

[49] Ingrid Beutler, “Sport serving development and peace: Achieving the goals of the United Nations through sport,” Sport in Society 11, no. 4 (2008), 359-369.

[50] Bruce Kidd, “A new social movement: Sport for development and peace,” Sport in Society 11, no. 4 (2008), 370-380.

[51] Solveig Straume, “Norwegian Naivety Meets Tanzanian Reality: The Case of the Norwegian Sports Development Aid Programme, Sport for All, in Dar es Salaam in the 1980s,” International Journal of the History of Sport 29, no. 11 (2012), 1577-1599; Fred Coalter, “The politics of sport‑for‑development: Limited focus programmes and broad gauge problems?” International Review for the Sociology of Sport 45, no. 3 (2010), 295-314; Grant Jarvie, “Sport, development and aid: Can sport make a difference?” Sport in Society 14, no. 2 (2011), 241-252.

[52] Kidd, 371.

[53] Helen Jefferson Lenskyj, Inside the Olympic Industry: Power, Politics, and Activism (Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 2000); Hart Cantelon and Michael Letters, “The Making of the IOC Environmental Policy as the Third Dimension of the Olympic Movement,” International Review for the Sociology of Sport 35 (2000), 294-308; Scarlett Cornelissen, “‘It’s Africa’s Turn!’ The Narratives and Legitimations Surrounding the Moroccan and South African Bids for the 2006 and 2010 FIFA Finals,” Third World Quarterly 25, no. 7 (2000), 1293-1309; John R. Gold and Margaret M. Gold, eds., Olympic Cities: City Agendas, Planning, and the World’s Games, 1896-2016, 2nd ed. (London: Routledge, 2011).

[54] Jessamyn R. Abel, “Japan’s Sporting Diplomacy: The 1964 Tokyo Olympiad,” International History Review 34, no. 2 (2012), 203-220.

[55] Kevin Witherspoon, Before the Eyes of the World: Mexico and the 1968 Olympic Games DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2008).

[56] Kay Schiller and Christopher Young, The 1972 Munich Olympics and the Making of Modern Germany (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010).

[57] Xu Guoqi, Olympic Dreams: China and Sports, 1895-2008 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008).

[58] Guoqi, Olympic Dreams, 198.

[59] “Documents reveal Australia’s Cold War concerns,” ABC News, January 1, 2011, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-01-01/documents-reveal-australias-cold-war-concerns/1891300 (accessed June 25, 2012).

[60] Sifiso Mxolisi Ndlovu, “Sports as cultural diplomacy: the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa’s foreign policy,” Soccer & Society 11, nos. 1-2 (2010), 144-153; Yu Wai Li, “Public Diplomacy Strategies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2012 London Olympics: A Comparative Study,” International Journal of the History of Sport 30, no. 15 (2013), 1723-1734.

[61] The Federal Republic of Germany’s Auswärtiges Amt has a website dedicated to sport and diplomacy, http://www.sport.diplo.de/, and the U.S. State Department has both a website (http://eca.state.gov/programs‑initiatives/sports‑diplomacy) and Twitter account (@SportsDiplomacy) for its office responsible for sports diplomacy and international sport exchanges.

[62] Ji-Hyun Cho and Alan Bairner, “The sociocultural legacy of the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games,” Leisure Studies 31, no. 3 (2012), 271-289; Brian Bridges, “The Seoul Olympics: Economic Miracle Meets the World,” The International Journal of the History of Sport 25, no. 14 (2008), 1939-1952.

[63] Victor Cha, “The Asian Games and Diplomacy in Asia: Korea–China–Russia,” International Journal of the History of Sport 30, no. 10 (2013), 1176-1187.

[64] Sifiso Mxolisi Ndlovu, “Sports as cultural diplomacy: the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa’s foreign policy,” Soccer & Society 11, nos. 1-2 (2010), 144-153; Victor Cha, “The Asian Games and Diplomacy in Asia: Korea–China–Russia,” The International Journal of the History of Sport 30, no. 10 (2013), 1176-1187; Yu Wai Li, “Public Diplomacy Strategies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2012 London Olympics: A Comparative Study,” The International Journal of the History of Sport 30, no. 15 (2013), 1723-1734; Scarlett Cornelissen, “The Geopolitics of Global Aspiration: Sport Mega‑events and Emerging Powers,” The International Journal of the History of Sport 27, no. 16-18 (2010), 3008-3025.

[65] Sandra Collins, The 1940 Tokyo Games: The Missing Olympics: Japan, the Asian Olympics and the Olympic Movement (London: Routledge, 2007); Jenifer Parks, “Welcoming the ‘Third World’: Soviet Sport Diplomacy, Developing Nations, and the Olympic Games,” in Diplomatic Games, 85-113.

[66] Oliver Butler, “Getting the Games: Japan, South Korea and the co-hosted World Cup,” in Japan, Korea and the 2002 World Cup, ed. John Horne and Wolfram Manzenreiter (London: Routledge, 2002), 43-55.

[67] Cesar R. Torres, “Peronism, International Sport, and Diplomacy,” in Diplomatic Games: Sport, Statecraft, and International Relations since 1945, ed. Heather L. Dichter and Andrew L. Johns (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky), 151-181; Antonio Sotomayor, “The Cold War Games of a Colonial Latin American Nation: San Juan, Puerto Rico, 1966,” in Diplomatic Games: Sport, Statecraft, and International Relations since 1945, ed. Heather L. Dichter and Andrew L. Johns (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky), 217-249; Paul Dimeo and Joyce Kay, “Major sports events, impage projection and the problems of ‘semi-periphery’: a cast study of the 1996 South Asia Cricket World Cup,” Third World Quarterly 25, no. 7 (2004), 1263-1276; Anthony Deos, “Sport and relational public diplomacy: the case of New Zealand and Rugby World Cup 2011,” Sport in Society 17, no. 9 (2014), 1170‑1186.

[68] J. A. Mangan, Sandra Collins, Gwang Ok, eds., The Triple Asian Olympics ‑ Asia Rising: The Pursuit of National Identity, International Recognition and Global Esteem (London: Routledge, 2012).

[69] “WikiLeaks releases 2010 Olympic security threats,” CBC News, 29 April 2011, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british‑columbia/wikileaks‑releases‑2010‑olympic‑security‑threats‑1.1002416 (accessed 4 September 2014).

[70] Kristine Toohey, “Terrorism, sport and public policy in the risk society,” Sport in Society 11, no. 4 (2008), 429-442.

[71] “Security and Surveillance at Sport Mega Events special issue edited by Richard Giulianotti and Francisco Klauser, Urban Studies 48, no. 15 (2011); Surveillance and Sport special issue edited by Ian Warren and Nils Zurawski, Surveillance & Society 11, no. 4 (2014).

[72] Hart Cantelon and Michael Letters, “The Making of the IOC Environmental Policy as the Third Dimension of the Olympic Movement,” International Review for the Sociology of Sport 35 (2000), 294-308.

[73] Jonathan Grix, ed., Leveraging Legacies from Sports Mega-Events: Concepts and Cases (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2014); J.A. Mangan and Mark Dyreson, eds., Olympic Aspirations: Realised and Unrealised (London: Routledge, 2012); International Journal of the History of Sport 27, 16-18 (2010); Richard Shipway, and Alan Fyall, eds. International Sports Events: Impacts, Experiences and Identities (London: Routledge, 2012).

[74] David Rowe, “The bid, the lead-up, the event and the legacy: global cultural politics and hosting the Olympics,” The British Journal of Sociology 63, no. 2 (2012), 285-305; Stephen B. Billings and J. Scott Holladay, “Should Cities Go for the Gold? The Long-Term Impacts of Hosting the Olympics,” Economic Inquiry 50, no. 3 (2012), 754-772; Kristine Toohey, “The Sydney Olympics: Striving for Legacies – Overcoming Short-Term Disappointments and Long-Term Deficiencies,” International Journal of the History of Sport 25, no. 14 (2008), 1953-1971.

[75] Barbara Keys, “Sport and International Relations: A Research Guide,” Passport: The Newsletter of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (March 2002).

[76] Barbara Keys, “Spreading Peace, Democracy, and Coca-Cola,” Diplomatic History 28, no. 2 (2004), 165-196; Sayuri Gurthrie-Shimizu, “For Love of the Game: Baseball in Early U.S.-Japanese Encounters and the Rise of a Transnational Sporting Fraternity,” Diplomatic History 28, no. 5 (2004), 637-662; John Gripentrog, “The Transnational Pastime: Baseball and American Perceptions of Japan in the 1930s,” Diplomatic History 34, no. 2 (2010), 247-273.

[77] H.E. Chehabi, “Sport diplomacy between the United States and Iran,” Diplomacy & Statecraft 12, no. 1 (2001), 89-106; Stuart Murray, “The Two Halves of Sports-Diplomacy,” Diplomacy & Statecraft 23 (2012), 576-592.

[78] Michael F. Hopkins, “Teaching and research on the Cold War in the United Kingdom,” Cold War History 8, no. 2 (2008), 241‑258; Nicholas Evan Sarantakes, “Moscow versus Los Angeles: the Nixon White House wages Cold War in the Olympic selection process,” Cold War History no. 1 (2009), 135‑157; Noel D. Cary, “Olympics in divided Berlin? Popular culture and political imagination at the Cold War frontier,” Cold War History 11, no. 3 (2011), 291‑316; Daniel James Lahey, “The Thatcher government's response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, 1979–1980,” Cold War History 13, no. 1 (2013), 21‑42; Paul Corthorn, The Cold War and British debates over the boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics,” Cold War History 13, no. 1 (2013), 43‑66.