TES-D: Towards an EU Sport Diplomacy

What is EU sport diplomacy?

As sport has become a popular tool of soft power, which serves as a means through which nations can improve their international reputation while building new political, cultural and economic bridges between countries, strategies have been built around the concept of “sport diplomacy”.

Victories in international sport – during Olympic and Paralympic Games or in football World Cups for example – are often framed by the winners’ nations as a symbol of their overall success, going well beyond the field of sport. However, although governments often lay at the heart of sport diplomacy initiatives, other non-political actors also take part.

Indeed, objectives and actors of sport diplomacy vary widely. Actors range from the grassroots to the regional level. Sport diplomacy is traditionally framed in terms of the hosting of mega-sport events, financial investments in sports clubs and infrastructures abroad, or exchanges programs between athletes across countries, but should not be limited to these sole strategies.

At the EU-level, sport is a relevant tool through which EU nations can build new relationships and strengthen their shared European identity. It can also be used on the international level, to improve EU external relations and global image in the world.

In the academia, sport diplomacy can stand on its own or fit within broader concepts of cultural and/or public diplomacy.

Considering the multi-faceted role of sport in diplomacy, it is essential today to provide a precise and all-encompassing definition of sport diplomacy. This challenge is one of the very objectives of TES-D.

Why are we focusing on the European Union?

As Euro-scepticism is rising, observable notably through increasingly popular far-right parties which regularly express anti-EU sentiments, sport can be used as a unifying force. On the international level, it can serve as a tool to strengthen and build relationships with other countries and regions.

The sport context will also put the EU in the spotlight: Paris will be hosting the Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2024, and the Italian cities of Milan and Cortina will host the Winter Olympics and Paralympics in 2026.

As it was first expressed in the 2007 White Paper on Sport, the European Union counts on sport to promote EU values and serve as an element of dialogue between countries. If we consider sport as culture, situated within the broader field of cultural diplomacy, the EU has also expressed international cultural relations as one of its priorities. Policies centred around sport diplomacy can effectively address these objectives, while enhancing dialogue between EU nations.

It is in this context that the Erasmus+ Programme financially supports projects, including TES-D, centred around both the European Union and the concept of sport diplomacy.

Why is TES-D different from other initiatives?

An innovative approach

TES-D’s guiding principle is to mix academic inquiry, practitioner perspectives and empirical knowledge. A diverse consortium, paired with a network made of stakeholders interested in sport and diplomacy, will together adopt a multi-disciplinary approach aimed at developing effective sport diplomacy policies which can be implemented in practice.

This multi-faceted approach includes:

  • Pilot actions
  • E-learning content
  • Literature reviews on the broad concept of sport diplomacy
  • Reports, partially built from newly collected data
  • Identification of existing good practices within and outside the EU

An original hypothesis

What if we built an EU sport diplomacy by adding the sum of all existing sport diplomacies of the 27 EU nations?

This is the hypothesis we will test in TES-D.

The project is partially devoted to researching and investigating the state of the 27 national sport diplomacies of the EU, as well as drafting policy recommendations which consider the implementation of a common EU sport diplomacy built on these foundations.

A long-term goal

The public policy approach of TES-D is not simply centred around the drafting of policy recommendations, but also focuses on developing a large network of stakeholders willing to develop an EU sport diplomacy together. Throughout the entire duration of the two-year project, our consortium will work on consolidating a network which will start new and sustainable dialogues which go beyond the official end of the project.

Who is behind it?

The project is made of a diverse consortium of academic and practitioners from six countries of the European Union, and the United Kingdom.

The French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs (IRIS), a Paris-based think tank, is the leading organisation of the project.

In addition to the International Sport and Cultural Association (ISCA, Denmark), six universities are taking part in the project: Edge Hill University (United Kingdom), the National University of Physical Education of Sports (Romania), SOAS University of London (United Kingdom), the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore (Italy), the Université catholique de Louvain (Belgium), and the University Carlos III of Madrid (Spain).