08 August, 2016

What is Sport Diplomacy?

What is Sport Diplomacy?

I'm sorry, I have been a bit quiet on the blog front. I still have two more blogs for each of the 'Excellence' series and these will start again next week.

We have had an amazing last 10 days. If you have been following our Facebook Page you would have seen the three BIG projects that all came about last week. Things come in threes they say! If you want to find out more about these then click here.

Once of those projects was the Engaging with Asia Sports Forum, where I was a strategic advisor to Government and also a speaker at. Below is a copy of my speech and the video. It talks about a topic I am passionate about - being developing sport and strategic people-to-people links across Northern Australia into Asia. Frequently referred to as sport diplomacy.

The Power of Sport

View the video of my speech here...

Often, the value of sport and the quality of administrators we have within our sector is underestimated in terms of what we are capable of achieving. 

However with a clear strategic focus alongside Government, the sport sector is able to assist the community to achieve success across a range of societal and economic issues and opportunities. This requires listening, collaboration and intent from all stakeholders, including Government. Something that I hope we are starting to get right in the NT.

Our focus here is the role the sport sector in the NT can play to assist the community through sport diplomacy, so we can be an excellent partner of our near neighbours.

To be excellent partners with our neighbours we need focus and a strategic intent. But most of all we need an understanding of where we and our near neighbours are coming from and want to be.

As we enter into the Rio Olympics, not only is this a demonstration of physical prowess, determination and success against all odds by individual athletes. But it is also an event that unites the World, across political boundaries, race and religions.

This is the power of sport. Sport is a soft diplomacy opportunity.

What is Sport Diplomacy?

I compare it to playing sport with your friends. We play sport for a variety of reasons, making friends along the way. We socialise with our sporting friends away from the playing arena and become a part of their lives. Often, as our friendships are built we come to rely on those friends we have made through sport in other parts of our lives.

Whether it is our plumbing friend who can help with a plumbing emergency or a friend who can introduce you for a job reference, or someone who you can call on for support when a life crisis hits.

This is no different in sport diplomacy, just on a larger scale. The power of sport to build strong people to people, region-to-region and country-to-country links is immense. The deepening of these relationships through sport enables further discussions around trade, defence, investment, capacity development and emergency support among others to occur.

These sorts of discussions around hard diplomacy issues are much easier to have with friends who have a deep understanding of each other and enjoy playing on the same field together.

The Northern Territory has a strong history in building friendships with our neighbours through sport. The Arafura Games were pivotal in the building of those sporting friendships since 1991. Since then, sporting bodies have continued that friendship through a variety of events such as the Timor Sea Cup, Basketball exchanges, various squash tournaments, Hockey International Tournaments, the list goes on.

I would argue though, that over the last 6+ years that the strategic focus on the development of these relationships through sport has been lacking in the Northern Territory. We have lost sight of the bigger picture and the opportunities available to assist each other through this soft diplomacy route.

At a time when diplomatic and political relationships are ever tested and strained in the region, the development of a range of soft diplomacy opportunities are required. These sport engagements are built on strong friendships, they are able to smooth troubled waters and ease tensions through good news stories and a reminder to all of the strength and value of the relationship. Friends are always going to have quarrels and disagreements, but the good times are remembered after a sporting engagement at the after match function.

Furthermore there are economic opportunities to strengthen sporting bodies in an increasingly commercialized world. The achievement of this vision requires strong leadership both within and outside of government.

My Strategic Vision for Sport into Asia


To be a trustworthy friend and excellent partner with our Asian neighbours.


  • Understand what relationships are important to the NT and our Asian neighbours.
  • Understand how sport can support the development and sustainment of the relationship.


  • Support the trade and investment links between business.
  • Support the development of the sports industry through knowledge sharing.


  • Understand the emergence of sport in Asia and be innovative in our approach.

Critical Steps

  • Develop relationships based on understanding with our Asian sport partners.
  • NT sport profile needs to be improved and what we have to offer better understood by our Asian neighbours.
  • Relationship between sport and business in the NT is strengthened.

The sports that I work with here in the NT are extremely enthusiastic and clear about wanting to deepen the relationship with our Asian Neighbours. We acknowledge that we need to have a clear purpose in our capability and capacity to deliver. I look forward to working with the NT sports to define our purpose and what we can offer our near neighbours in order to build the relationship, strategically and for the benefit of each other.

© 2019 Paul Mead