Empowering Women through Sports Diplomacy

When I was little, I used to watch the winter Olympics and dance around the house, pretending to be an ice skater. Although I was never as graceful, I grew to love the sport and had many idols like Tara Lipinski, Kristi Yamaguchi, and Sarah Hughes. So one can imagine my delight when I came across an article discussing Olympic ice skater, Michelle Kwan, and her current diplomatic efforts.

In the next week, Kwan will be speaking at the University of Tennessee to promote a program focused on sports diplomacy. The Michelle KwanEmpowering Women and Girls Through Sports Initiative is run through the U.S. Department of State, where Kwan is a senior adviser. The initiative brings together 24 women from 6 different countries from around the world to promote cultural diplomacy through sports.

“When women and girls can walk on the playing field, they are more likely to step into the classroom, the boardroom, and step out as leaders in society.” This quote stuck out at me from the U.S. State Department’s website. Not only is this initiative a great instance of cultural diplomacy, but it is also giving opportunity to women who are less privileged. By helping these women and girls succeed in sports, they will be more inclined to succeed in other aspects of their lives and other’s. Seeing Michelle Kwan use her Olympic status to promote awareness to help other women is not only a great example of cultural diplomacy, but celebrity diplomacy as well.

15 thoughts on “Empowering Women through Sports Diplomacy”

  1. I really enjoyed reading your post about women and sports diplomacy. Sports diplomacy is crucially important in a lot of countries, there were so many international opportunities created by sports, such as Brazil’s soccer and China’s table tennis. However, one detrimental issue we had in a very long time was the issue regarding to media coverage in female athletes, in which female athletes often be neglected or hyper-sexualized by sports media especially magazines not only domestically but internationally.

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    1. While I do see your point about the oversexualization of women in the media, I think it is important to note that these women were not coerced into posing for this media campagin. Perhaps this is a form of feminism and a bold move on the part of the athletes. Or maybe not, I’m just playing devil’s advocate.

  2. I wrote about this topic back in Week 8 (http://auctrl.wpengine.com/sis628/2014/02/27/sports-diplomacy-program-evaluation/) and I couldn’t agree with you more. I truly believe that Sports Diplomacy hits the nail on the head– it brings people together and allows them to connect and communicate both verbally and non-verbally; it empowers those who participate in it and enriches the program organizers; and it of course has a great track-record of being successful and having lasting positive results as a PD genre.

    Your mention of Michele Kwan made me think of the Global Asia Article: “How 21st-Century China Sees Public Diplomacy As a Path to Soft Power”, from this week’s readings. In it, Jinwei and Quigan explain how China has begun to use the Olympics are a tool of public diplomacy. They explain the first time the country realized the power of this, “during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games China used its public diplomacy channels to improve its image.” The authors go on to explain that while China has identified ways to successfully harness soft power (like the 2008 Olympics), “the reality is that it uses soft power cautiously. China’s public diplomacy tends to be defensive, discreet and stable, but in the current environment, new strategies need to be developed” (Jinwei and Quigan).

    One other aspect of this article that really hit home with me was the mention that an outcome of China’s dabbling with Olympic PD during the Beijing Olympics was that Chinese officials realized they needed to choose cultural ambassadors with whom foreign publics can identify. Jinwei and Quigan mention Michelle Kwan with regard to her participation with the State Department and the fact that “the Chinese public is able to identify with Kwan because of her ethnic, language and cultural background.” Borrowing from this strategy China has since utilized “basketball star Yao Ming and other Chinese sports stars” in their “public diplomacy activities after the Beijing Olympics.”

    Global Asia Article : How21st-Century China Sees Public Diplomacy As a Pathto Soft Power
    http://www.ct2014.com/Issue/ArticleDetail/89/how-21st-century-china-sees-public-diplomacy-as-a-path-to-soft-power.html

  3. Thank you both for your comments. I do think that sports diplomacy is often overlooked, but it starting to pick up some steam. It truly brings people together in ways that were previously unimaginable. From the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the recent Sochi Olympics to the 2010 South African World Cup, sports brings a sense of friendly competition between countries. Even Dennis Rodman’s appearance in North Korea for Kim Jong-un’s birthday demonstrates a form of sports diplomacy.

    Going back to Week 7’s readings, Stuart Murray seems to agree. In his essay on the topic, he states that if “done correctly, sports diplomacy can ease international tension with a game of cricket. It can overcome imperial stereotypes and bring old enemies together.” This quote really resonated with me. Although the sense of competition can be quite strong between teams, it manages to cross international boundaries and provide a sense of togetherness between countries.

    From well recognized games, such as the Olympics, to programs specifically designed for women (like in this blogpost), sports can be an extremely effective method of diplomacy. Not only can it increase a country’s soft power, as demonstrated in the 2008 Olympics, but it can also peacefully bring nations together.

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