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22.05.2022 Article

Sports Diplomacy Under President Weah’s Administration: A new Opportunity for National Development In Liberia

By Dr. Mory Sumaworo
Sports Diplomacy Under President Weahs Administration:  A new Opportunity for National Development In Liberia
22.05.2022 LISTEN


Abstract:

''Sports diplomacy is an old practice, but relatively new concept terminologically. It is all about using various sporting activities to achieve nations' foreign policy program reflective on their internal development. Liberia is a nation led by a sport professional who is the chief architect of its foreign policies and relations. President George M Weah, 1995 Ballon d'Or and only African to win that award so far, has a great opportunity to take advantage of his unrivaled global sporting image to achieve Liberia's economic and development foreign policies. Sport brings development, solidifies national peace and create economic windows for the people. So far, the administration faces a lot challenges, but it has a great opportunities to use sport diplomacy. The government needs to develop a special foreign policy program for sports diplomacy and attach a special consideration to it when engaging sport-friendly nations. With an effective sports diplomacy, President will make remarkable breakthrough in his strive and thirst for socioeconomic and infrastructural development''.

Golden Era of Liberia's Sport Diplomacy:

Following the popular democratically taking over of the Executive Mansion{i} by the former international soccer star and the only African Bollon d'Or, George M Weah, it could be assumed that the two traditional pillars of Liberia's foreign Policy have been added with another one; the Sport Diplomacy (SD). Form 1847-1944, The fundamental thrust of Liberia's foreign policy objective was predominantly the maintenance of national independence. Since the Tubman's administration from 1944 to date, the foreign policy objective of the country, in addition to the maintenance of national independence has been the devotion to economic, social and political development. [ii] Sport brings development, national healing, tourism and regional and international cooperation. President George Weah as a global sport icon with political power is the best person to take advantage of the sport as a tool of foreign policy to meet Liberia's development demands. Since his ascendancy to the power, his administration has formulated a midterm development program known as ' Pro-poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development - PAPD' with four cardinal pillars. The Power to the People, the Economy and Job, Sustaining the Peace and Governance and transparency. To achieve the pillar two and three respectively, sport cannot be underemphasized. Besides, considering the national economic package with lots of competing priorities, there is a need to take advantage of the sport diplomacy by the Weah-led administration by persuading investors and partners to partner with government and private sector to make sporting a real economic powerhouse as it has been done by other countries. The name George M Weah is a brand in foot game which can be easily used for national development and expanding Liberia's bilateral and multilateral relations. In addition, Liberia's House of the Representative currently has a former support leader and basketball player Hon. Sulomon C George, the Current Minister of the Youth and Sport is a former soccer player. All of these would make the sport diplomacy being a reality in Liberia easy and simple.

Concept of Sport Diplomacy:

Sport diplomacy has been in practice for a very long time as one of the methodologies of public diplomacy that brings people from distinct cultural, political and racial and religious backgrounds together. It has been used by states to consolidate and deepen their regional and international presence with other States. It has also been used through the history to end conflicts and wars between States. In other words, Long before the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, countries and states have used sports to bridge divides, increase cultural understanding, and foster dialogue between all people. With sports diplomacy.[iii] Against this background, using sports to improve frayed diplomatic relations is not a new phenomenon. For example, in the ancient Greece under the reign of Iphitos, King of Elis, an armed conflict was brought to an end in the ninth Century B.C. when he consulted the oracle of Delphi who recommended he create a sporting competition, which later became the Olympic Games. Iphitos signed a truce and a ceasefire agreement with fellow Kings, Cleisthenes of Pisa and Lycurgus of Sparta As a result of the accord called Ekecheiria every four years conflicts ended so the games could occur[iv].

According to Dr. 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.[v] Sporting events are useful because both the spectators (people) and their governments (elite politicians) can be reached through their love of sport. As a consequence, international sporting events can also improve relations both bilaterally and multilaterally. For example, it can be recorded that during the Cold War, bilateral sporting events were used repeatedly to increase communication and diplomatic engagement among hostile countries and rivals. The Ping-pong diplomacy, for instance, between China and the United States allowed two adversaries in the middle of the Cold War to restart dialogue in a politically divided environment. President Nixon's diplomatic move opened up relations with China, which resulted in an improved bilateral relationship between the two nations in the decades to come. Another instance of sporting diplomacy is Cricketing as medium to lessen the tension between India and Pakistan. Following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1987, General Zia ul-Haq, Pakistan's president at the time, attended a test cricket match between India and Pakistan in Jaipur—a visit that apparently helped cool a flare-up in tensions caused by Soviet pressure on India. Furthermore, in 2004 after a break of fifteen years, India toured Pakistan in the wake of diplomatic initiatives to bury half a century of mutual hostility. Both sides relaxed their tough visa regulations for each other, allowing thousands of fans to travel across the border[vi].

Besides, the Gulf Cup, which ran from November 26 to December 8, 2019 in Qatar, is a good illustration of the sport diplomacy at work in that region. It came at time when Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirate have broken off diplomatic relations with the host of the even, State of Qatar. Yet they all participated in the tournament which brought the people of from rivals nations together.[vii]

On the hand, sport can also may worsen the relationship between nations, as the example of El Salvador and Honduras instance. The deteriorated diplomatic relationship between the two neighboring nations was caused by large numbers of migrants from El Salvador, who moved to Honduras in search of a better life. The relationship was further worsen and exacerbated by the three World Cup qualifying matches these two nations had to play against each other in the month of June in 1969. The same day that the third and final game was played between the two nations, El Salvador severed all diplomatic ties with Honduras and started bombing their neighboring nation. Ever since then, this war has been referred to as La Guerra del Futbol—the Soccer War[viii].

Based on the above discussions, it can be said that sport Diplomacy is “the management of international relations between nations one hand and nations and local and international sporting organizations to meet the foreign policy goal of the country; development, the economy, internal, regional and global peace etc.

Goals of Sport Diplomacy:

Several countries have developed sport diplomacy strategies and include into their foreign policies. For instance, the State of Qatar, Australia[ix], the United Kingdom, the United States of America[x], Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana, France etc. In this regard, some countries through their Ministry of Foreign Affairs have explicitly included the sport diplomacy in their foreign policy. For instance, in France, the Ministère de l'Europe et des Affaires étrangères expresses that 'Sport is a vehicle for international outreach, competitiveness and job creation. To this end, it plays an important role in French economic and soft diplomacy, towards which all State services are working. Alongside the sports movement, the Sports Ministry, companies and regions, the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs has established an action plan coordinated by Sports Ambassador Laurence Fischer'[xi] Further, the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) has named former international footballer, Olusegun Odegbami, as head of its Sports Diplomacy Desk, whose role is to explore sports as a diplomatic tool to foster the country's international relationships in accordance with the nation's foreign policy agenda.[xii] There are numerous goals that sport diplomacy could achieve to bring social, economic and development benefit to the nation. For example, it connects people from different cultural, racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds. It also enhances development and creates economic opportunities for the citizens in foreign countries. It gives an international and global face to the nation. Through sport, President George M Weah was appointed as the UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 1997. According to UNICEF, George first worked with UNICEF in 1994 when he helped publicize immunization campaigns in Liberia. During his time as a Goodwill Ambassador, George's efforts on behalf of UNICEF have included vital support for HIV/AIDS education programs and other projects in Ghana and Liberia.[xiii] This occurred before he joined politics and now he is the President and chief architect of Liberia's diplomacy. It is, however, expected of him to take advantage of his God-gifted talent to take Liberia to a different level through sport diplomacy which is his biggest and unrivaled global strength.

The Challenges of Liberia' Sport Diplomacy

As stated above, the reign of President could be the golden era of sport diplomacy in Liberia due to his global recognition and position in the sport, mainly the football. However, there are or might be some challenges towards the realization of this very significant diplomatic tool to create jobs, build infrastructure and strengthen and deepen Liberia's relations with other countries and relevant international organization such as Fédération Internationale de Football Association FIFA, Confederation of African Football (CAF) and others. For instance, the concept and the practice of sport diplomacy is not fully designed in a policy and lack a proper propaganda machine and mechanism. Sport in Liberia goes underfunding problem; there are hidden talents, but local clubs and sporting activities are not sought out to the world it should be. Sport diplomacy is not achievable by traditional politicians, it is a part of public diplomacy, nonpolitical actors such as soccer players, basketballers among others needs to be involved. That involvement is attainable through proper funding for the sport and capacity building to carry out the task.

The Prospect of Liberia' Sport Diplomacy:

When talking about the prospect of Liberia's sport diplomacy, President George Weah as a global sport icon comes to the mind. He knows the architect of sporting and he is highly respected in sporting industry. Therefore, as a chief-bearer of Liberia's foreign policy, the nation stands to benefit a lot from this significant area of strengthen Liberia's ties with other nations and international organizations with the aim to accelerate its development pace and addressing its aged-old infrastructural deficits. Meanwhile, the journey requires highly-skilled and seasoned diplomats to take advantage of the President's international iconic sporting image to achieve intended results this new area of our foreign engagement. Recently, during the dedicatory ceremony of The Invincible Park consisting of several sporting facilities built by the Weah-led administration, Liberia experienced never before in-flow of sport professionals as dozens of famous international succer star such as Tim Cahill of Australia, Jay Jay Okocha of Nigeria, Elaji Diouf of Sengal, Emmanuel Adebayor of Togo, Asamoah Gyan of Ghana and a huge and high-level delegation from Aspire Zone in Qatar led the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Mr. Mohamed Khalifa Al-swaidi. During the program, the President announced that the government has had a conversation with the Qatari Aspire Zone to build a multi-purpose sports stadium. The government needs to engage different sporting institutions and individual in friendly nations to take sport, not only the football, but other sport activities to the highest-hight. For instance, basketball can help to provide opportunities to Liberia if the government aggressively and progressively engage the US government, the historical and traditional ally of Liberia. Further, the growing Indian and Pakistani population in Liberia can also triggere the government to engage India, Pakistan and South Africa to improve Cricket that may also provide economic opportunities for Liberia through their sporting talents.

Conclusion:

Sport diplomacy is an old practice, but relatively new concept terminologically. It is all about using various sporting activities to achieve nations' foreign policy program reflective on their internal development. Liberia is the only country in the world now led by a sport professional. President George M Weah, 1995 Ballon d'Or and only African to win that award so far, has a great opportunity to take advantage of his unrivaled global sporting image to achieve Liberia's economic and development foreign policies. Sport brings development, solidifies national peace and create economic windows for the people. So far, the administration faces a lot of challenges, but it has a great opportunities to use sport diplomacy. The government needs to develop a special foreign policy program for sports diplomacy and attach a special consideration to it when engaging sport-friendly nations. With an effective sports diplomacy, President will make remarkable breakthrough in his strive and thirst for socioeconomic and infrastructural development.

About the Author:

Dr. Mory Sumaworo,

( BA, MCL, Cert in PFM Law, Ph.D.)

Lecturer of International Law and Diplomacy at AME University Graduate School, Cuttington University Graduate School of Global Affairs and Policy and Foreign Service Institute, Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Founder and Executive Director of African Institute for Development Research ( AIDER).

References:


The Official Seat of President of Liberia, https://www.emansion.gov.lr/

[ii] Foreign Policy of Liberia, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Liberia, https://www.mofa.gov.lr/public2/2content.php?main=2&related=2&pg=mp

[iii] Gina-Marie Cheeseman, Famous Instances of Sport Diplomacy, (March 25, 2019) Stacker, https://stacker.com/stories/2720/famous-instances-sports-diplomacy

[iv] Ibid., International Olympic Committee, The History of Olympic Truce, ( Nov.17, 2017), https://olympics.com/ioc/news/the-history-of-the-olympic-truce

[v] Stuart Murray, Sport Diplomacy: History, Theory and Practice, (Oct. 17, 2020) https://doi.org/10.1093/acrefore/9780190846626.013.542

[vi] Baker, R. E., Jackson, S., & Sam, M. (2017). Case studies in sport diplomacy. C. Esherick (Ed.). FiT Publishing, a division of the International Center for Performance Excellence. https://www.eusportdiplomacy.info/files/2-sport-diplomacy-in-international-relatio.pdf

[vii] Archyd, The Very Active Sport Diplomacy of the United Arab Emirates (Nov.29,2019), https://www.archyde.com/the-very-active-sports-diplomacy-of-the-united-arab-emirates/

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Sport Diplomacy, https://www.dfat.gov.au/people-to-people/sports-diplomacy

[x] Sport Diplomacy, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, https://eca.state.gov/sports-diplomacy

[xi] France Sport Diplomacy, Ministère de l'Europe et des Affaires étrangères

https://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/en/french-foreign-policy/sports-diplomacy/

[xii] NIIA Launches Sports Diplomacy Project, Voice of Nigeria(2022), https://von.gov.ng/2022/02/23/niia-launches-sports-diplomacy-project/

[xiii] UNICEF, George Weah, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Alumnus, https://www.unicef.org/goodwill-ambassadors/george-weah

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