The Impact of Sport on Diplomacy between America and China

A blog reflecting on my research project and the Laidlaw experience so far

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International politics and sport are not often thought of as related fields of study. Indeed, thesentiment that sport and politics should not mix is common and prevalent. However, as my research project explores, these two seemingly distinct concepts intrinsically overlap. From Mandela’s appearance at the 1995 Rugby World Cup to the superpowers boycotting the 1980 and 1984 Olympic Games, from India and Pakistan’s ‘cricket diplomacy’ to Hitler’s manipulation of the 1936 Berlin Olympics to serve the Nazi agenda, a fascinating and rich relationship connects the sporting and political arenas. My research project focuses on the impact of sport on one bilateral relationship in particular – that between the United States and China.

So, what encouraged me to pursue this avenue of research? Firstly, it was an opportunity to explore the synthesis between the two issues which most interest me academically and in my day-to-day life –sport and the critical relationship between the world’s preeminent power and its rising challenger. I think it’s important to research something that you enjoy, and I certainly believe that this personal interest has increased motivation and productivity during a research phase conducted in the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic from my kitchen table at home in South West Wales.

 Secondly, International Relations scholarship has traditionally fixated on armies, missiles trade, globalisation and so forth, and as such, interactions between cultural phenomena, like sport, and the high politics of diplomacy have been under analysed. Consequently, I’ve approached this project as an opportunity to forge new ground and to broaden the parameters of International Relations. Of course, I am not by any means the first scholar to make the connection between sport and international politics, however, the relative scarcity of research in this area promises an opportunity for me to be original which greatly excites me.

 And thirdly, as any current affairs follower – or indeed any of President Trump’s Twitter followers – would attest, the trust, cooperation and banality of the relationship between America and China is quickly eroding and the Covid-19 pandemic will only serve as an accelerant to this process. Nevertheless, as Laidlaw scholars pursuing skills and exploring ideas that will make this world of ours a more just, moral and harmonious place, I feel as if we have a responsibility to research options that have the potential to restore and repair this most pivotal of relationships. This, above all, has directed and inspired this research project.

 As I previously mentioned, I’m not writing this blog post nor conducting the research project from the comforts of the St Andrews University Library with its gallery of books and ever-reliable Wi-Fi. Rather, I’m sat at home by the kitchen table rummaging through the US National Security Archives and the academic literature on sports diplomacy. Naturally, this has its unique challenges but in the context of the Leadership component of this Laidlaw Scholarship, these challenges have arguably developed my leadership skills in a way in which it would otherwise not have.

 For instance, from a project management perspective, greater discipline and willingness to adapt have been necessary. Of course, these are required for every research project, but the degree to which they have been exercisedthanks to the current conditions have stretched and developed these traits considerably. Similarly, my self-leadership and self-management skills have been expanded because the pandemic has placed a greater impetus on pursuing the project independently and solving problems individually. Altogether, it would be quite easy for me to ramble as to how this pandemic has affected my ability to conduct the research project which I first envisioned. However, on reflection, it has also carried a silver lining through which my leadership skills have been honed and developed.

 As I approach the end of this blog post, and indeed the end of my 5-week research project, I want to take this opportunity to thank those whose support has enabled me to conduct this project in the first place. My thanks go to my supervisor, Dr Chris Ogden of the School of International Relations, whose continued support, valued advice and constructive comments as well as agreeing to supervise me in the first place is most greatly appreciated. Thanks are also due to the Laidlaw team at St Andrews whose resolve to continue to provide a thought-provoking and insightful remote summer leadership programme is valued. And above all, thank you to Lord Laidlaw himself whose vision to empower the leaders of the future with the skills and research experience to constructively contribute to their society in the form of a most generous financial scholarship and an extensive leadership programme is deeply appreciated.

 On this note, I look forward to completing my research poster and essay within the next week and invite you to revisit this page soon to read those respective works.