SOAS University of London

SOAS debates Basketball Diplomacy in Africa

27 June 2019

The Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at SOAS University of London, hosted a roundtable workshop to discuss with internal and external partners basketball’s globalization and growth on an African plane. 

Attendees met to discuss what the intersections of basketball and diplomacy mean for the sport’s future, and how they play a role on the African continent today and tomorrow. Basketball is a vector that addresses the challenges of the SDGs at the intersection of gender, race, ethnicity and migration. As former U.S. President Barack Obama stated in February in relation to an NBA and FIBA initiative to establish an indigenous African league (Basketball Africa League, BAL): ‘This can be about a lot more than what happens on the court’. It’s a story fed by history, culture, race and identity, technology, business, international relations, and more, one that is also being shaped by topical debates and ethical issues of today’s news cycles. 

Stakeholders, including academics, journalists, representatives from the Special Olympics, the NBA, NGOs, and others, considered how basketball diplomacy has changed over the years in line with the sport’s growth. Particular emphasis was given to the NBA’s first international trips (China, 1985; the Soviet Union, 1988), and how those involved recognized the importance of cultural exchange and the role that they played in communicating, representing, and negotiating on the basketball court. The experiences marked how the NBA subsequently thought of its efforts to expand as a global business while using basketball to do good. 

But the main focus of the day was on basketball diplomacy in Africa and the role that the forthcoming January 2020 BAL launch plays in this concept. Issues discussed included the role of pan-African identity and the BAL, non-state actors in diplomacy, athletes as ambassadors, and the import of the BAL for the wider African diaspora. 

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