Can cultural relations through sport build bridges?


Grant Jarvie 

Sports News

The proposition is straight forward that sport is a tool to be exploited in the pursuit of building effective cultural relations.

The proposition is timely as;

  • The UK seeks to launch a new soft power strategy
  • Wales has produced a report outlining how Wales might maximise sport as a soft power asset.
  • Scotland has an international development intervention that , like other countries, has still to maximise or realise the capacity and capability to foster reconciliation, rehabilitation and or resilience


The Norwegian Minister for International Development says that The Norway Cup is one of the best tools Norway has to bring the youth of the world together and if in the future these kids remember that Norway helped them that is worth more than any money that they we put in.

Norway is good at using the standard tools of international development development assistance programmes; capacity strengthening initiatives; commercial investment initiatives and collaboration with donors.

If such interventions build bridges for Norway why would it not work for the UK and/or parts of the UK?

Cultural gatekeepers need to be less aloof

The challenge is a tough one for it requires cultural gatekeepers to be less aloof about what is seen as culture. It requires sport to deliver tangible outcomes. It requires both to seek mutuality and forge and extend the common good.

For after all is that not what cultural relations is all about the forging of better relations through culture.


 The promise, possibilities and limits that sport brings have been well documented if not fully accepted by the cultural world. If taken seriously the sports proposition is a real one. Some of the qualities of sport should be appealing to those wishing to build bridges. But why is this?

It is

  • a pillar of connection
  • It has popularity, scale and reach
  • It can be philanthropy and resource re-distribution
  • It is not just a commodity, it can be a powerful vector of change, value, principle and solidarity, “a symbol and means,” of cultural diversity and economic but not just economic links.
  • A cost-effective resource that assists with forging sustainable, lasting, mutually meaningful outcomes.
  • Marchesseault’s work on the role of the bike and the cyclist as a form of agency in the construction of a more peaceful Rwanda is fascinating work- but who provides the bikes?
  • Cardenas’s work on sports role in building resilience, reconciliation and rehabilitation

 Cultural Relations

For the world of cultural relations sport raises a number of questions Can sport offer a sustained continuum of solidarity, shared practice and international fellowship? Can the cultural gatekeepers embrace a more complete world and definition of culture –

  • It is suggested that cultural relations builds bridges between nations, individuals but also communities;
  • Is is effective when focusing on non-governmental territory
  • Is not a short-term fix but should be long-term, increase levels of trust, build upon mutuality

 In a word cultural relations needs to be seen to be forging and sustaining common ground.

To talk of sport and the common good means that sport is part of a set of cultural commitments aimed at delivering public goods to people, regardless of personal identity, political affiliation or geographic location.

 If sport can help with the making of safe places, magic circles, in which things happen or if you have a tool that is a language, has characteristics of scale, popularity and reach then why would you not use it to build mutuality, trust and an enlarged common good.

Concluding Thoughts

SO a few points before concluding:

 Normatively and empirically spaces are desperately needed to open up the possibility of sustained dialogue involving the interests of more than one group or one state or one community. To talk of sport and the common good means that sport is part of a set of commitments and practices aimed at using public/private/personal power to deliver public goods to people, regardless of their personal identity, political affiliation, and/or geographic location. Sport working across groups, communities, non-state and state bodies as a cost-effective tool and resource.

Firstly, the use of sport is not new but the contexts in which we are working through are new. What is new is today’s fractured societies and communities and a realization that it is the local context often shapes sustainable peace and development processes. Top down interventions tend to be short-term fixes.

Secondly, sport is a space that you can build other things around, i.e. sport as a space, probably in the same way as other people have talked of the human rights space. The world of culture needs to embrace it and work with it in politically smarter ways.

Thirdly, a nudge for the academics since the question remains as to whether academics are involved in a project of critical mutual friendship to grow the common ground, or one of pure criticism that views all interventions as inevitably flawed without providing suggestions about what should be done. – Not good enough – we need solutions.

It was a welsh cultural writer who reminded us about the possibilities of culture as a tool that can be part of making the art of the possible, possible.

So can cultural relations through sport build bridges for the UK and parts of the UK? – the answer is yes. Should culture exploit the popularity, scale, reach and language that is sport the answer is yes. Should culture work in smarter ways and embrace sport yes.

 Sport can position itself in spaces where cultural relations can be forged. Thus, sport and the common good is best understood as a project of ongoing political construction and the UK should exploit it to the full to build bridges in a mutually sustainable way.