Imanol Galdos: “There are few instruments as powerful as sport to position a country in the world”

Sport, in all its extension, is a magnificent ambassador for making Euskadi known throughout the world. It’s called sports diplomacy

Organized by Donostia Culture in collaboration with the Basque Government and the Provincial Council, this Thursday a sports diplomacy webinara new concept that describes sport’s ability to project a country’s brand or a territory. Sport understood as sweet power. International and Basque experts (Roberto Olabe, Clara Azurmendi, Edurne Pasaban or Juan Ignacio Zulaika) will think about it in a two-hour open course (in English) under the coordination of Imanol Galdos and which aspires to be the starting point of a Basque sports diplomacy strategy. Those interested can register on the website.

What is sports diplomacy?

-Although in practice sport has historically played a crucial role in diplomacy, in the international image of countries, cities and regions as well as in paradiplomacy and as part of the identity of peoples , the concept of sports diplomacy is a relatively new concept . A new term for an old practice. A field that welcomes a multiplicity of actors, going beyond the exclusivity that States once exercised.

That is to say, the sale of the brand of the country through the sporting reputation?

–Stuart Murray, a Scot who works at Bond University (Australia) and who will open the event, is the creator of the concept and defines it as the strategic use of sport by state and non-state actors and athletes to build relationships , amplify messages, promote political, business or personal goals and raise awareness of old and new security threats. In the vast literature that has been produced in relation to sports diplomacy, a remarkable unanimity emerges in placing it as one of the configurating elements of public diplomacy and in reporting it as an instrument of soft power.

Is it just an economic concept? –It is a concept which, without disdaining it, moves away from exclusively economic parameters. It is a powerful instrument of international positioning. There are few instruments as powerful as sport to place a country, state, region or city on the international agenda. Powerful countries like the United States or China have spent decades devoting significant resources to sports diplomacy to persuade the world of their way of life or their values..

Does the Basque Country have a strategy in this area?

–The first reflection that should be noted is that, although there is a coincidence in the objectives pursued by the States, the infra-State realities operate with different strategies and instruments, and in some cases unique. In many cases, and the Basque Country is an example, sports diplomacy exists in practice but it has not yet been endowed with a normative aspect in the form of a strategy. It should be remembered that we are facing a new field and in this context it should be noted that until recently there were no explicit plans or documents bringing together the objectives, resources and agendas that governments intend to develop in the field of sports diplomacy. The Welsh government, for example, adopted its first strategic plan in October 2020 and this denotes a very contemporary phenomenon.

Sport is consubstantial in Euskadi. We are starting from an important base.

–Basque sports diplomacy has an ally that other realities, whether state or not, lack: a very suggestive narrative, endowed with differentiating elements. On the other hand, it is an excellent tool for placing sport in a national perspective, going beyond administrative divisions. I believe that the Basque Country itself is a unique model that arouses the interest of many. It has elements of differentiation that do not occur in other realities. Sporting figures that are hard to match, with an organizational structure and an established international reputation as an organizer of major sporting events.

What are the main assets of Euskadi to articulate a sports diplomacy strategy?

–It has a mystique, an authenticity, close to legend that attracts the interest and observation of many. The idiosyncrasy of indigenous sports (common in part of the Basque diaspora, especially in the United States) is an element that must be analyzed in greater depth. In this same context, it is worth highlighting the uniqueness of the Jai-Alai as a powerful instrument of the Basque brand that opened the Basque Country to the world.

What benefits can a diplomatic strategy based on sport bring to the Basque Country?

-Everything is profit. There is much to explore in this emerging field. And we have many cards to play. There is no doubt that the administration of the Basque teams finds insurmountable walls. But, somehow, based on the opportunities offered by sports diplomacy, progress must be made on the path to finding alliances that push to overcome blockages, rejections and boycotts. When the doors are closed, we must try to open new ones to avoid eternal frustrations.

Don’t you think that the brand image of Euskadi in the sporting field is known internationally?

–Undoubtedly, the mark is an indisputable fact. But we must consolidate and extend it. When travelling, and this must be taken into account, you still realize that there is a long way to go to make yourself known and to make yourself known. And there is another element that deserves to be underlined. Basque sport exports values ​​and symbols that reinforce the friendly image of our country. This is what soft power is all about, something countries like the United States, South Korea and Japan have been doing for decades. This is one of our best business cards

Who is the course for and how do I attend?

–This is a two-hour webinar that should be understood as a first step in future projects. Participation is free and only registration is required, even moments before the start of the event. It is not an academic event, although it has the participation of agents of this field. It was raised from a broad perspective. Open to anyone curious about sport and sports diplomacy. People who work in sports federations and clubs, in public administration, journalists, athletes or sports fans. It is worth noting the large number of registrations that have been made from all over the world, proof of the great interest that Basque sport arouses. It’s a great showcase and an excellent platform to make yourself known.


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