- Diplomatic Games: Sport, Statecraft, and International Relations since 1945 ed. by Heather L. Dichter, Andrew L. Johns
In Diplomatic Games: Sport, Statecraft, and International Relations since 1945, Heather L. Dichter and Andrew L. Johns reiterate and remind us of sports’ undeniable place within global political machinations and diplomatic engagements. In the post-1945 context in particular, the focus of this book, the emphasis is on articulating sports’ entanglement [End Page 227] in the long international conflicts of the later twentieth century and analyzing the ways sport has been specifically operationalized for post–World War II diplomatic and state-craft agendas. For Dichter, Johns, and their contributors, the post-1945 decades have seen a reconfiguration of colonial/imperial forces and processes and an exponential rise in the popularity and proliferation of global sport cultures. As such, the epoch provides an ideal site through which to critically examine international relations, foreign policy, and sport’s value as a distinct form of public diplomacy and “soft” power. Moreover, many examples have emerged post-1945 that demonstrate the universal, and frequently unapologetic, manipulation and politicization of sport in the context of grand international power plays and daily foreign relations maneuvers. Dichter and Johns’s work speaks to these concerns but also counters the existing body of sport scholarship that focuses predominantly on domestic political issues rather than state relationships with foreign powers/entities.
To this end, Diplomatic Games comprises thirteen chapters divided into four distinct parts (alliance politics, the decolonizing world, East–West Rivalries, and sport as public diplomacy). Notwithstanding each chapter’s uniqueness, Soviet and American relations form a persistent thread that binds many of the chapters that cover, variously, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO); the Soviet and East German “friendship”; Soviet foreign policy in Africa; Olympic boycotts; Chinese foreign policy; and, countercultural surfing politics. A number of chapters, indeed an entire section (Part 2), stand in distinction. One noteworthy chapter, authored by Pascal Charitas, is not only well researched, conceptualized, and written, but provides a new foci, perspective, and recourse for our scholarly thinking and debate. While much has been successfully written on sport and decolonizing processes, Charitas covers original terrain in his examination of France’s efforts to reconfigure its domestic identities, Franco-African imperial relations, and global position. Charitas investigates how, in the two decades following 1945, France consolidated its respective imperial power bases across the globe. In the quest for a new international order, France (not unlike other global powers) faced questions about its reach and controls over foreign territories, namely, in Africa but also elsewhere. Yet, against the backdrop of American and Soviet frictions, decolonizing processes presented particular difficulties for the French state. French colonial sport policy in francophone Africa, in particular, became entrenched within reconfigurations of nationhood and imperial allegiance. Through a developing series of localized francophone “community,” “friendship,” “regional” then African games, concomitant with increased participation in international sporting federations (for example, the International Olympic Committee), French colonies set about (re)negotiating, simultaneously, their domestic identities, historically entrenched imperial ties, continental and wider geopolitical alliances, and place within the uncertain new world order.
Diplomatic Games is not without fault. As with most edited collections, decisions have to be made. Diplomatic Games may be found wanting, concluding author Thomas Zeiler notes, in terms of gendered perspectives, Islamic representation, or articulating the global (sporting) politics of other ethnic or minority groups. With the exception of surfing, basketball, and ice hockey, Zeiler remarks there is also a notable omission of single sports and their contribution to foreign policy and diplomacy. Some readers may also find the lack of [End Page 228] an overarching theoretical framework/conceptual discussion of concern. This said, savvy readers should be able to draw connections between the empirical evidence and analysis to current debates about transnationalism, colonialism and postcolonialism, globalization, cosmopolitanism, political theory, and (neo)capitalist and Marxist thought. Notwithstanding the above reflections, it is evident that Diplomatic Games makes a valued addition to existing scholarship. Dichter and Johns have...