Global Diplomacy: Nation Branding and Sports Events
In the 21st century globalized world, sports events are more and more regarded as a market in which countries can attract media interest and draw attention on the host city and the competing nations. This phenomenon of “nation branding” is aiming to increase new investments and actively promote tourism. For instance, a campaign was launched in Australia in 1998 to maximize potential economic returns following the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. The goal was to draw together the Olympic brand, sponsors and Brand Australia (set up in 1995). Though large-scale sports events do not lead to precise impact studies, especially when it comes to the ambiguous concept of “legacy”, one must recognize that a growing number of regions compete to host big tournaments. However, many parts of the world are left behind, as the commercial battle remains accessible only to some countries.
The perception of mega-sporting events as opportunities for regional economic development sometimes lead to a subversion of local community interests, public transparency and democracy. Politicians and business actors involved often promote world competitions as they see them as a significant public diplomacy player. The construction of new infrastructures and the creation of short-term jobs also justify such a strategy. Moreover, the organization of the Olympic Games or the World Cup revitalize the image of a country and raise high expectations. The emotional side of it may hide the financial risks of hosting a huge competition. Nevertheless, some communities remain reluctant to set up major sports events. In March 2013, the citizens of the Graubuenden canton in Switzerland have for example voted against the region’s 2022 Olympic Games bid.
Finally, do mega-sporting events always enhance the image of a nation at the international level? Though this statement seems to be true in most cases, the recent clashes between Brazilian police and protesters have focused the attention on the persistent social problems of the country. Brazilian citizens complain about the amount of money spent on staging the Confederations Cup and next year’s World Cup. They call for more public expenses in the fields of health and education in particular. Nevertheless, President Dilma Rousseff continues to attach importance to the competitions mentionned above (and the 2016 Olympics in Rio). According to her and most political leaders, mega-sporting events are crucial for Brazil in terms of soft power, prestige and visibility. This strategy aims to advance Brazil’s status and strengthen traditional foreign policy efforts to become a significant player on the world stage.