Guest Post: Can Sport Really Change The World? (Part II)

Here is Part II of Kelsey Suemnicht’s epic essay. Read Part I here.

The British band “Kinetika Bloco” performs on the Great Wall of China in 2007 to help promote the upcoming Games. / SOURCE: Apple Travel

The Arts / Cultural Diplomacy

My favorite part of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Charter is “to encourage and support initiatves blending sport with culture and education.” A slice of culture permeates through the television and into our living rooms during the opening and closing ceremonies, appointed times for the host country to display examples of its performing arts heritage. But the cultural programming surrounding any Olympics Games is best experienced in person.

There is a constant buzz of exhibits and performances that entertain fans of the Games outside of the competitions. In Salt Lake City, dance troupes from around the western United States were chosen to perform at street fairs and celebrations held in the evenings, after competitions had finished for the day. During its Games, Turin held one of Italy’s renowned White Nights or “Notte Bianca”, where a city offers free admission to all of its museums for 24 hours.

Fans walk the street during “La Notte Bianca” (or White Night) of the 2006 Turin Olympics / SOURCE: Sports Illustrated

The Olympic city showcases it’s own art but also plays host to visiting artists from around the world. The cultural diplomacy surrounding the games can be ad hoc, when visiting fans feel compelled to play their music on a street corner or it can also be organized based on significant partnerships. A connection is often forged between the current city and the next city that will host the Games. For example, the “Canada House” was given a prominent location along a main street at the Turin games, providing a forum for Canada to showcase it’s pride as the host of the 2010 Games. Some attendees wouldn’t have otherwise thought to attend the Vancouver Games if they hadn’t first experienced the preview of Canadian hospitality in Turin.

In many ways, the arts provide a stronger experience of a foreign culture in a way that is more potent than any sport could ever be. By incorporating cultural diplomacy within the games, the Olympics provides an excellent example of a well-rounded public diplomacy campaign.

Food / Culinary Diplomacy

Encompassed within the IOC’s mission is the goal of “[ensuring] the regular celebration of the Olympic Games;” this includes obtaining adequate sponsorship funds to keep the Games afloat. It’s convenient to find your favorite snack at a soccer game or to see a familiar bottle of water when you’ve hiked to your stadium seats. But, the local fare is not to be missed (and is often free, offered as a symbol of cultural exchange)!

Swiss Chef, Béda Zingg, served fondue, charcuterie and more at the Swiss House in 2010. SOURCE: Straight.com

Rumor has it, the Beijing Games ran out of refreshments to sell because they underestimated how many visiting fans would want to try their traditional foods. Wandering the streets of Salt Lake City were Hot Chocolate Ambassadors, sponsored by Nestlé, serving free cups of chocolate to fans. At the base of the mountain north of Turin, where all Ski events were held in 2006, the people of Sestriere would serve traditional dishes every evening. Sport unites fans because it’s a common experience publics can share, but what more common of an experience is there than eating?

Transaction

If the period of sustained interaction with foreign publics is only two weeks, it’s important to capitalize on opportunities for attendees to engage with each other. The element of transaction finds root in the IOC’s commitment to “take action in order to strengthen the unity and to protect the independence of the Olympic Movement.” The Olympics excels at providing forums, incentives, and methods for transaction, because it depends on appealing to the international nature and the willingness of the attendees to participate in communal events. My memory of this element occured in two forums at the Olympics I attended: the Pin Trade and “Hospitality Houses”.

The Olympic Pin Trade provide a connection between fans from around the world. Surrounding any Games, an attendee will notice fans trading different pins between each other. Some do it for fun but others come to each Olympics with serious goals to acquire pins new and old. This is an excellent forum in which transaction and exchange can occur, even without two fans needing to speak the same language.

Holland House Party, 2010 SOURCE: Vancouver Magazine

Hospitality Houses are another forum the Olympics provides for transaction between fans. Countries can set up a tent or take over a park for a chance to showcase their country’s hospitality customs. Inside each Hospitality House are many forums in which fans can interact with each other, country representatives, sponsors, and athletes. Above, the notorious Holland House is sponsored by Heineken and offered discounted drinks, lounge areas, and a live Dutch DJ mastering the ceremonies each night at the 2010 Vancouver Games. As was showcased earlier in culinary diplomacy, Switzerland used its House as a restaurant, offering gourmet traditional cuisine to any fan who could make a reservation. The next country to host the Games might offer a preview of what is to come in four years, as was the case for Canada. For the London 2012 Games, the African countries will unite to put on a Hospitality House representing an entire continent for the first time.

Transaction implemented for the goal of transformation is a useful public diplomacy tactic to create experiences that will enable more effective and thorough international relations. The foundation of effective public diplomacy is listening, the most basic transaction. All diplomacy should strive to be transactional in order to establish a trusting international relationship. Harvard University Professor Joeseph Nye discusses transactional and tranformational power in his book, The Powers To Lead:

 “Transformational leaders… use conflict and crisis to raise their followers’ consciousness and transform them. [They] mobilize power for change by appealing to their followers’ higher ideals and moral values…. Transactional leaders rely on various individual interests. [They] create concrete incentives to influence followers’ efforts and set out rules that relate work to rewards” (62-63).

When we view the Olympics as a public diplomacy event, transformation is the goal, similar to the principal goal for foreign exchange programs between universities of different countries. Transformational experiences in regards to a foreign public give citizens concrete experiences as evidence for changing their mind against conflicts with that foreign public. Critical transactions work towards achieving the goal of transformation.

With the Olympics offering an opportunity to employ such productive public diplomacy tactics, could this experience be replicated elsewhere? Or does it only work every two years, because it is such a rare experience? Do to the Olympics capitalize on the experience enough to reap the benefits of such a strong public diplomacy event?

The Olympics prove that publics are willing to interact and connect, but that they need to be provided with the forums in which to do so. I challenge you to seek out the Olympic Experience for yourself; to discover if it may change you or, better yet, inspire you to change the world.