Scotland and Germany: The Future for Sport, Cultural Relations and International Development


Image provided by the Scottish Football Museum.

The Centre for Cultural Relations and the Academy of Sport presented a discussion on the role of sport in cultural relations and international development on 8 September 2015.
The event was hosted by the Scottish Football Museum, Hampden Park, the day after the Scotland-Germany football match, and it kicked off a series of events the Centre is planning for 2015-16 which will explore the unique contribution Germany makes to the theory and practice of international cultural relations.
It was particularly good to be able to welcome Humza Yousaf, MSP, the Minister for Europe and International Development in the Scottish Government, and other distinguished guests from Scotland and Germany including Stewart Regan, the Chief Executive of the Scottish Football Association, Dr. Bridget McConnell, Chief Executive of Glasgow Life, Sir Martin Davidson, former Chief Executive of the British Council and now the Chair of the International Inspiration Programme Board (set up after London 2012 – the IIP is the first ever international legacy initiative linked to an Olympic and Paralympic Games), Nikolai Petersen, the new Director of the Goethe Institut, Glasgow, and Dr Katharina Lindner of Stirling University and a former footballer for Glasgow City and Frankfurt.
The presentations were wide ranging, but there were perhaps 2 main areas of focus: the capacity of sport to bring about change in peoples’ lives as part of a comprehensive approach to international development, and the gap between élite sports as entertainment in the global spectacle and the needs of local communities. This, and other scandals around governance, corruption and doping, were generating a bad press, which had to be acknowledged in conversations involving sport.
In terms of soft power, it was possible for sport to have an influence through major events, used for national promotion, although these could be problematic. It was essential to involve local communities.
Glasgow (Commonwealth Games 2014) and Munich (bid to host the Winter Olympics, 2018) were cited, the former as having a successful community strategy and legacy programme, and the latter where the bid divided local opinion and Munich lost the bid. The experience of the London Olympics was that to use sport only (or mainly) for purposes of nation branding of as an explicit tool to secure influence was probably not going to succeed in generating a sustainable legacy.
Academics in the field stressed the need for long term planning around sports events. Denmark was cited as a country which had developed a strategy for sport as part of its overall approach to international cultural relations.
Speakers called for critical reflection on sport, for research and for evidence of what works in place, if sport was to continue to be seen as relevant in international cultural relations and development. It was possible, however, to see sport as having a role to play in helping address the new Millennium Development Goals. Sport has a role to play in stimulating physical activity, enabling access to education and providing opportunities for women and minority communities.
In terms of peoples’ lives, sport was seen a providing a “safe space” which can be built on to help individuals and build social capital. Sport could motivate communities, but it was important for policy makers to recognise the importance of context and what sport needed to do in relation to specific circumstances.
Finally, in terms of what people talk about when they talk about sport, it was suggested that we need new tools to look at all sport effects from elite to grass roots, to help frame narratives about sport and its role in international cultural relations and development. It was important to learn from each other – for example, Germany had a very good record in making sport available to the whole population.
The event ended with agreement that this had been a useful initial discussion, that there was a lot to talk about, and that the conversation should continue!

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