China’s Sports Diplomacy

By Muhammad Asif Noor | Gwadar Pro Aug 13, 2021

by Muhammad Asif Noor 

When the Olympics flame extinguished in Tokyo, China roared to the medals' table with 38 gold medals followed by the US bagging 39 medals, the first-ever narrow in Olympics history. This significant triumph is a message to the globe about China’s soft image and a healthy nation despite fighting the COVID-19 at home and sharing support globally. China did not reach this position overnight; rather it takes effective planning, immense resources, and sheer physical standards for achieving excellence in sports. After Beijing Olympics 2008, China began to aim for mastering the elite sports and projecting itself as a leading nation in sports as it developed interaction with leading sports organizations and nations. China capitalized its profile in the subsequent two Olympics and managed to stand at second in the Olympics 2020, which is indeed a great feat as the Chinese profile in sports took a steep trajectory in recent years. These Olympics projected China's global soft image and paving way for the country to build momentum for the upcoming grandeur Winter Olympics.

In efforts to produce world-class athletes, China could not possibly rely on the internalization of sports. China developed interactions with global sports bodies and leading sporting nations for healthy competition indulging in building diplomacy through sports.  Although, diplomacy is no longer a redundant subject and practice in the 21st century as it covers every dimension of statecraft, let alone foreign relations. The international community is going through radical shifts in the execution of day-to-day diplomacy and passing through an immense transformation.  Sports Diplomacy is the resurrection of an old phenomenon bringing people, communities, and nations together through a mutual love of games and sports. The direct interest of the common public in sports makes it a luring area of cooperation in public diplomacy among states.

Chinese confidence in sports comes from its economic profile necessitating China to build its soft power through sports. The policy relevance of sports and its diplomatic character in China emerged in the last two decades reflected in its success rate in elite sports and hosting the Olympics. Through sports diplomacy, China has been able to project the positive impact of its economic outreach and political stability through the images of successful athletes. A new brand image to China's growing national health, strength is also reflecting that how well the country has maintained the fight on COVID-19.  Meanwhile, China actively engaged with international sports organizations and development professionals followed by its commercialization. Over the years, China has offered various sports promotion tools such as Sports Law, multiple Five-Year Plan for Development, National Fitness Programme and Strategic Olympic Glory Plan have been instrumental in the progression of Chinese sports profile.

In efforts to examine the spiking Chinese graph, it is critical to analyze its post-Beijing Olympics 2008 policies. It appears that China masterfully used Olympics 2008 as a driving force to its public and sports diplomacy coupled with political, economic, and environmental considerations. China was able to earn revenue from sports and use it as an industry that later capitalized on its political profile. It helped China to project itself as a brand, an emerging economic power with considerable political influence. Meanwhile, China began to forge diplomatic relations with neighboring states for the revival of old silk route and develop the Belt and Road Initiative where sports is seen as a potential area of cooperation.

Under the auspices of the Belt and Road Initiative, the range of cooperation was not limited to economy and geopolitics; rather it includes every social domain including sports. Keeping the pace, it became crucial for the Chinese diplomatic corps to bring sports into the limelight. Driven by its success graph in Olympic sports, China seeks sports cooperation with partner states to boost public diplomacy and capacity build-up in friendly nations. There is no denying the fact that victory in sports brings national pride, making it an attractive area of cooperation.

Editor's Note: The writer is Director, Institute of Peace and Diplomatic Studies.  The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of Gwadar Pro.

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