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Sports Diplomacy: History, Theory, and Practice  

Stuart Murray

Sports diplomacy is a new term that describes an old practice: the unique power of sport to bring people, nations, and communities closer together via a shared love of physical pursuits. This “power”—to bring strangers closer together, advance foreign policy goals or augment sport for development initiatives—remains elusive because of a lack of a robust theoretical framework. Four distinct theoretical frameworks are, however, beginning to emerge: traditional sports diplomacy, new sports diplomacy, sport-as-diplomacy, and sports antidiplomacy. As a result of these new frameworks, the complex landscape where sport, politics, and diplomacy overlap become clearer, as do the pitfalls of using sport as a tool for overcoming and mediating separation between people, nonstate actors, and states. The power of sport has never been more important. So far, the 21st century has been dominated by disintegration, introspection, and the retreat of the nation-state from the globalization agenda. In such an environment, scholars, students, and practitioners of international relations are beginning to rethink how sport might be used to tackle climate change, gender inequality, and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, for example. To boost these integrative, positive efforts is to focus on the means as well as the ends, that is, the diplomacy, plural networks, and processes involved in the role sport can play in tackling the monumental traditional and human security challenges of our time.