Tara Schoenborn, publicdiplomacycouncil.org
Schoenborn image from article
Ecuador had a historic 2-0 soccer win over Argentina on Oct. 8 in the first-round qualifier for the 2018 World Cup. This win marks the first time Ecuador defeated Argentina on its home turf, reports the Cuenca High Life. Ecuador has only qualified for the World Cup on three occasions, whereas Argentina has the reputation of a soccer champion, according to The Guardian. The significance of this win, and the team’s recent three straight wins, goes beyond the game and represents an opportunity to use sports diplomacy to improve its international position.
Soccer or “fútbol” is closely intertwined with everyday life in South America and greatly influences society because it arrived just as countries were establishing new constitutions, identifying rights and defining their cultures, according to the Kojo Nnamdi Radio Show. Soccer became something everyone could rally around, despite differences in background, and each country developed a distinct style of play that became globally associated with its team. For example, Brazil is known for its fast pace and Argentina is known for its ball control.
Coverage of the Oct. 8 game on U.S. FOX Sports and Malaysia’s Malay Mail Online shows that the association of South America with soccer moves beyond the continent and affects foreign audience’s perceptions of the nation. In the U.S., soccer is often viewed as a sport played by little boys and girls in grade school. In South America and much of the rest of the world, soccer is an identity worth fighting for. As a result, and because many South American nations are still developing powers, most of the world’s only positive association with South America is through soccer.
The political and diplomatic implications of soccer can be vast. For example, when Brazil lost 1-7 to Germany in the 2014 FIFA World Cup, outlets like USA Today framed it as a disgrace. The Washington Post published an article that put the loss in the context of a disagreement between Brazil and Israel, and Jornal Nacional TV reported the Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson Yigal Palmor saying, “This is not football. In football, when a game ends in a draw, you think it is proportional, but when it finishes 7-1 it’s disproportionate. Sorry to say, but not so in real life and under international law.” Palmor used the loss to embarrass Brazil and threaten its identity and power, which indicates the power that sports can have in diplomacy and the world’s perception of a nation.Historically, the champions of South American soccer are Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. Therefore, if soccer is used as a public diplomacy tool, Ecuador defeating Argentina at home can help Ecuador show and advertise other positive aspects of its country that can help it become a regional player and build the foundation for it to become a rising international power. Ecuador and other developing nations should use cross-cultural power of sports like soccer to bring the citizens of their nations together amidst difficulties and capitalize on the comradery through nation-branding, international broadcasting, cultural exchanges and other public diplomacy strategies to show the rest of world that they will be a force reckon with one day, even if right now it is just on the soccer field.