The involvement of ‘grassroots’ in sport diplomacy
The Covid-19 crisis has been portrayed by many as an opportunity for a “new narrative”, or developing radically new solutions to society’s problems.
Secretary General of International Sport and Culture Association (ISCA)
As a matter of fact, disaster research shows that there is a very large degree of inertia in social systems. As a species, we tend to go back to what we know, when we can. Of course, this conservatism has its advantages. It enables stable systems of cooperation and understanding. Perhaps one of the best examples of this is the area of diplomacy. Relations between countries are governed by a stable set of codes, by specific communication channels, roles and approaches.
Public diplomacy has evolved out of this system, predictably slowly, and has also included the specific areas of cultural and sport diplomacy. These concepts are not radically transforming diplomacy but are perhaps more accurately developments and additional elements of diplomacy.
Backed by an Erasmus+ grant, ISCA and its partners have initiated a journey to coin, develop and advance the concept of Grassroots Sport Diplomacy – GSD.
This concept of GSD could be looked upon as a specific subset of sport diplomacy. But this would be a simplification. Because the concept challenges traditional notions of sport diplomacy, and of diplomacy generally, because it is:
- Focused on civil society’s role in diplomacy.
- Enabling mutual exchanges and dialogue in an open and transparent environment.
- Advancing mutual benefit and societal development.
Therefore, I consider “The grassroots” in sport diplomacy as a change maker, and a totally new way of thinking about international relations.
Within the framework of the GSD project, 7 pilot projects were carried out by partner organisations (a South American network on women’s football, local runs and walks for social development and charitable purposes in Lebanon, etc.).
Many learnings have emerged from the 7 pilot actions for grassroots sport diplomacy. I would in particular note how the actions have demonstrated that GSD builds on a culture of generosity. It is about sharing what you have with others, and developing solutions together. GSD is also truly citizens-oriented and bottom-up and tackles some of the most difficult challenges of our time.
“A new way of thinking about international relations”
Allow me a rhetorical question: How much would it cost if someone would want to buy a solution for these wicked problems? I believe that grassroots sport diplomacy is a powerful – and very cost-effective – tool to address key issues of our time.
If we return to the question of the possibility of the Covid-19 crisis, it seems clear that the epidemic may be a platform for social change. But there is a battle now to conquer the space and earn the narrative of tomorrow’s solutions, before we fall back into too-known patterns. It is my hope that grassroots sport diplomacy, with its tenets of generosity, openness and cooperation will have a key role to play. But it will not come if we do not push for it.