SOAS University of London

Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy

Sport and Diplomacy: More than a Game

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Taught in:
Term 2

The module aims to develop a comprehensive understanding of how sports and international sporting institutions function as non-state actors in diplomacy since the end of the nineteenth century, through the twentieth and into the twenty-first.

At least since the era of the ancient Olympic Games, sporting competition has assisted human societies in mediating estrangements, resolving conflict and sublimating competitive urges. Through sport, cities and states have represented themselves to, and communicated with foreign counterparts. In doing so, opposing sides – teams and the citizenry who support them – come to know one another, creating opportunities to build and sustain durable, ongoing and peaceful relationships. Such engagements with the ‘other’ simultaneously produce and reinforce each state and people’s own identity. These bilateral and multilateral processes of representation and communication constitute a form of diplomacy which has hitherto been under explored.

In more recent times, examples abound of sporting competition being employed to reduce tensions between states at odds with one another that thus lacked conventional channels of diplomatic relations Alongside some familiar examples – the ‘ping-pong diplomacy’ that opened communication and détente between the People’s Republic of China and the United States in the early 1970s, the rôle of sport in ending Apartheid in South Africa, or the Olympic teams of the Republic of Korea (South Korea) and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) marching together in the opening ceremonies of the 2000 Sydney Olympiad – more recent examples suggest that ‘sports-diplomacy’ is an increasingly necessary part of contemporary diplomatic practice. In other words, sporting fixtures – like diplomacy – may be regarded as a means of international discourse short of war.

Further, understanding sport’s capacity in the field of diplomacy challenges conventional state based approaches and sheds light upon a plethora of related issues: including international governance, international business, cultural diplomacy and public diplomacy. The role of governing bodies, such as the International Olympic Committee and FIFA, will be given particular attention as examples of major NGOs engaging in diplomacy.

This module is open to all Postgraduate Taught Students at SOAS. Lectures will take place during the day on Fridays.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

The module aims to give students:

  • an excellent ability to comprehend both conceptually and empirically the issues surrounding sport and diplomacy in international affairs, including the role of sport’s international governing bodies (International Olympic Committee, Federation International Football Association) as NGOs, sport’s role in the diplomacy of international business, as a vehicle for cultural diplomacy, and as a means of engaging in public diplomacy
  • comprehensive understanding of, and ability to critically review the relevant literature
  • aptitude in constructing and applying an appropriate analytical approach to issues relevant to the subject matter
  • capacity to source, integrate, analyse and summarise relevant research and data in the submission of assessments
  • the relevant skills to propose, debate and appraise feasible issues relevant to the subject


The module will be taught over 10 weeks with four hours contact time per week:

3 hours consisting of - 2 hours lecture and 1 hour tutorial

1 hour online component

Method of assessment

  • A 1500 word plan, 15%
  • A 5000 word essay, 85%

Suggested reading

This pre-reading list will be helpful for this module but is not a requirement. This is for independent reading around the topic and reading will not be supported.

1. Geoffrey Allen Pigman & J. Simon Rofe. (2013) Sport and diplomacy: an introduction, Sport in Society: Cultures, Commerce, Media, Politics. 17(9), pp.1095-1097. Pigman and Rofe 2014 Sport and Diplomacy an Introduction_Sport in Societ (pdf; 276kb)  

2. J Simon Rofe. (2016) Sport and Diplomacy: A Global Diplomacy Framework. Diplomacy & Statecraft, 27:2, 212-230. Rofe 2016 Sport and Diplomacy A Global Diplomacy (pdf; 1435kb)  

3. David Black and Byron Peacock (2013) Sport and Diplomacy. In The Oxford Handbook of Modern Diplomacy, 1st ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp.708–22. Black and Peacock Chapter_2013_Sport and Diplomacy (pdf; 3mb)  

4. Jarvie, G., Thornton, J., & Mackie, H. (2018). Sport, culture and society: An introduction (Third edition.). London, [England] ; New York, New York: Routledge. Ebook, available through the SOAS library website.


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