Recent cricket fans via India Buzzing
Perhaps the most well recognized instance of sports-meets-politics was the famous 1971 table tennis game between host China and the U.S., often dubbed "ping pong diplomacy." Though this match perhaps led to a more agreeable future meeting for President Nixon's rapprochement with China, the context in this case actually used culture as an indicator rather than as a collective experience.
But sports diplomacy has been utilized the world over and is often a highly compelling method of large scale connection. Take a look at James Naismith's YMCA, the Harlem Globetrotters' 1951 West Berlin visit, the worldwide craze and politics-based rivalries of association football, the international-yet-inclusive Special Olympics, and of course, the politically-loaded timeline of the Olympics itself. I could go on, for the instances of sports in politics is dense and significant.
In light of this, I was excited to receive the news this morning that State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs announced that a group of young Iraqi baseball players will visit Washington to participate in a Sports Visitors baseball/softball program May 3–13, 2010:
The delegation includes 10 boys and girls, ages 15-17, and five coaches who will take part in baseball skills clinics, including one taught by Major League Baseball (MLB) All-Star Ken Griffey, Jr. After a clinic from the prolific homerun hitter, the delegation will tour Camden Yards stadium, observe batting practice, and take in the Baltimore Orioles game against the Seattle Mariners on May 11th.
The group’s itinerary includes a baseball clinic at the famed Ripken Academy in Aberdeen, Maryland, as well as baseball and softball skills training with American counterparts at local high schools and colleges. Elements covering team building, disability in sports, Title IX and conflict resolution will also be incorporated into their program.
In conjunction with this exchange, MLB donated 27 boxes of bats, helmets, balls, rule books and other equipment to Iraqi baseball and softball players.
The equipment was presented at a ceremony in Baghdad on April 1st hosted by U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill.
Considering the damaged history and uncertain outlook between the U.S. and the Middle East, sports--one of the softest forms of soft power--appear to be an instinctive way to bridge disparate cultures by providing a model of cooperation, exchange, and fair play. The upcoming baseball exchange with Iraq will hopefully spur real international communication between our societies long after the baseball games and workshops have ended. For sports to instigate an effect beyond "ping pong" diplomacy-type meetings, the diplomacy must continue well beyond the temporal investment of mere sport and game.
In other baseball news today: how fury over Arizona's new immigration law has spread to baseball, with NY Congressman Jose Serrano calling for 2011's All-Star Game to be pulled from taking place in Arizona.
A discussion of problems regarding the World Cup 2010 in South Africa. See also the biographical drama film Invictus, which reveals the context of the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa following the dismantling of apartheid.
For more information on State's sports exchange programs, see SportsUnited.