Sport and Diplomacy: More Than Just a Blog

By Fadil Elobeid|September 18, 2019|News|16 comments

A blog by CISD Student Mark Bekiet

Whether the IOC or FIFA like it or not, sport and politics are inextricably linked. Once governing bodies comprehend this fact, the next stage should address how to utilise the universal language of sport for the betterment of humanity. Reassuringly, the recognition of this modern form of diplomacy is increasing exponentially among nation states and supranational organisations. This was proven on October 19th 2009 when the IOC were granted observer member status by the UN General Assembly. The meteoric rise of social media has also facilitated this intercultural dialogue to be shared in an instant. This blog articulates my journey from simply enjoying sport as a pastime to appreciating the discipline as more than just a game.

This journey began as an undergraduate at Canterbury Christ Church University where I studied English and Sport & Exercise Science. It was there my interest on the sociological impact of sport truly commenced. Along with sociology, I grew an interest on sport’s global reach in the field of business. This led me to pursue an MBA in Sports Management at the Universidad Católica de Murcia (UCAM) in Spain. Topics in this diverse course ranged from sports marketing, law and event planning. My dissertation “How has sport been used as a political tool in international relations since the 20th Century and its role in present society?” became the precursor for my research focus at SOAS. The reasons I embarked on the International Studies and Diplomacy Degree in CISD were plentiful but the fundamental aspiration was to advance my knowledge and understanding of ‘Sport Diplomacy’. This has been central to my studies during the year, with my MA dissertation ‘Can Qatar follow Australia by maximising sport diplomacy to achieve their foreign and domestic objectives?’ being my intellectual focus, under the guidance of Dr J Simon Rofe.

The ISD programme provided the unique opportunity to study my two fields of interest in one speciality module, “Sport and Diplomacy: More than a Game”. The course was run by the excellent tutelage of Stuart MacDonald, Jose Gigante and Lindsay Krasnoff. Along with conventional teaching methods, the module provided an online platform on Moodle that embodied the emphasis of digital diplomacy’s rising influence on foreign affairs. This platform was used to facilitate post-classroom discussions of the topics covered during the lectures and seminars, respectively. The SOAS staff members were accompanied by knowledgeable guest speakers who imparted their expertise on a weekly basis. Domestic and international speakers shared a diverse background in sports coaching, business, academia and history. These speakers included the Associate Vice President of the NBA, Kent Christian, the General Manager at the Premier League Charitable Fund, Ruth Shaw and long-standing sociological academic, Dr. Dikaia Chatziefstathiou. The latter a former lecturer of mine at Canterbury Christ Church University who has spent her academic career researching the history and impact of sport on society, particularly through the Olympic movement.

The core value I will take away from the module is the high calibre of volunteer and networking opportunities afforded to students on the MA programme. This invaluable experience provided first-hand exposure to the strenuous work of practitioners in the field of ‘Sport for Development’. Throughout the summer, I have been collaborating with Simon Lansley, the Founder and Chief Executive of Connect Sport. Numerous projects include writing articles for his website and promoting the work of NGOs associated with his network on Twitter. Moreover, as a volunteer at events, I was tasked with planning, reporting and setting up these exciting colloquiums. Notable gatherings hosted by our very own Dr Rofe and his peers included, “Debating the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace” and “Sport Diplomatique”. The latter of which promoted Dr Rofe’s new book, Sport and diplomacy: Games within games. Various authors of the book were also present with the prescient issue being Japan and the upcoming Rugby World Cup and Olympic Games due to be held in the country. The venue of the university was also significantly symbolic due to its specialisation of both Oriental affairs and sport diplomacy.

Furthermore, SOAS’ affiliation with Beyond Sport culminated in networking functions that endorsed the potential of sport in sustainable social development. To my dismay as a life-long Arsenal fan, one of which was held in the new T*ttenham Hotspur Stadium. *Shudder* The Beyond Sport functions involved roundtable discussions with notable personnel ranging from parliamentarians such as Baroness Lola Young and Britain’s first openly transgender officer in the Armed Forces, Caroline Paige. In an age where discrimination and harassment have become the norm in sport, these esteemed individuals stimulated engaging conversations on sport’s growing responsibility to lead the way in societal change. Another unique networking opportunity involved a return to the T*ttenham Hotspur Stadium courtesy of Santander Universities. This Champions League Final Screening Event focused on leadership skills with Chelsea legends, Dennis Wise and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, both present as guest speakers (Fortunately, I was not alone in enemy territory).

The biggest event of the academic year involved the collaboration of Oxford University and SOAS in Oxford’s Rhodes House venue. The conference became the first of a series of colloquiums on Sport and Digital Diplomacy. The large distinguished gathering included representatives of governance around the world, the UN and former professional athletes. Another notable inclusion was Hassan Al Thawadi, the Secretary General of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy. The organisation responsible for the logistical operations of the highly contentious 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. As rapporteurs, volunteers were also required to publicise the conference on social media. These compiled notes were formed into a blog for Dr Rofe as a record for future colloquiums. Along with being another unique learning and networking experience, the event inspired my dissertation focus on Qatar’s growing relationship with sport.

The practical and networking experience I’ve garnered throughout the academic year has exceeded my expectations. These invaluable opportunities would not have been feasible without the tireless endeavours of Dr Rofe, the department’s ‘Sport and Diplomacy’ team and finally, the university’s outgoing director, Baroness Valerie Amos. If you love sport and you believe it’s more than just a game, then enrolling on this course is the first step for an exciting new journey.

The ball’s in your court.

Mark Bekiet

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