The Importance of Sports in Intercultural Communication
Any person who has ever spoken with me, even for a few minutes, knows one thing: I have a mild obsession with sports. The use of the word mild is to make myself feel better. I am obsessed. Talk to me after a loss of my favorite baseball team, the Oakland Athletics, especially in the fifth game of the playoffs to the Detroit Tigers AGAIN, and you will begin to understand why my roommate avoids talking to me after such losses. Now, why would I bring this conversation into a discussion about intercultural communication or intercultural PR? Because a major avenue for discussion among and between groups who often don’t speak the same language is sports.
I served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ethiopia during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. I used this event to bond with members of my community by going to the recreation center and other sports cafes around town to watch these games with them. Even if we weren’t rooting for the same teams, as I was rooting for the U.S against Ghana, we still could enjoy watching them together. Ultimately, the U.S. did lose to Ghana, but I continued to go to local establishments to watch with my community members. It was a way to show them that we had this one thing in common, our love for football, and it also helped build my credibility with the youth in my town who saw me watching the games.
The World Cup and the Olympic Games are both international sporting events that are about sports, yes, but often include a high level of public diplomacy. This quarter, in the Intercultural PR class, we have discussed the Sochi Olympics nearly every day. We have discussed the national branding that has gone into promoting the games, how Vladimir Putin has presented himself and responded to the storm of public and media attention when he passed anti-gay laws prior to the Olympics, as well as looked at what different media outlets have focused on. The U.S. media has mainly focused on the problems in Sochi, including human rights issues and infrastructure issues, and has used it as more of a way to show how Russia still isn’t in the same league as the U.S.
I haven’t been watching these games consistently, and actually have only watched a few of the hundreds of hours of coverage for various reasons. One reason I haven’t watched as much of the coverage as in previous years, is that these games seem to be much more about the political and social issues in Russia and less about the actual events. Sports should be an avenue to spark friendly competition and a place to talk about something that brings people together, not tear them apart. Don’t get me wrong, I was just as upset as the next person when the U.S. women’s hockey team lost in overtime, after leading 2-0 with less than four minutes left. However, that game will not likely be what remains in the public consciousness. Instead the face of these games is Vladimir Putin, and not the events or athletes themselves.