Sports Diplomacy

I wrote about music in public diplomacy a few posts back.  This one is about sports diplomacy. I am belatedly getting around to writing this; it actually happened in Rio before the music program in São Paulo.

This one was also depended on the generosity of individual Americans, this time NBA basketball players. This program was also a great deal for us; it cost us absolutely nothing except our time to support the activities and publicize them.

Our part consisted mostly of attending a basketball clinic at a community center in the Complexo do Alemão.  This was one of the most violent and dangerous places in the world until a few months ago. It was controlled by drug gangs. Honest people were in constant danger and the police could not enter many of the areas; they were outgunned by the traffickers. As the City of Rio tried to establish order, the traffickers lashed out.  They attack and burned buses and cars to show that they were serious about their violence and get the authorities to back down. Instead, the Brazilian authorities went all in, using the military and special police units to pacify the favela.

What we see now is a variation of the “seize, hold, build” counterinsurgency strategy. In fact, walking on the streets reminded me of my time in Iraq. These former violent places were bouncing back.  There was still a heavy police presence to maintain order, but the emphasis now was on building and providing services.

The basketball (Called basketball without borders) was helping with the reconstruction of civil society.  NBA players came at their own expense and the NBA paid to set up a basketball court, which they inaugurated with the clinic that you see in some of the pictures.

Our post in Rio did a good job of publicizing the event. I use a variation of the old saying that it is like the rooster taking credit for the sunrise.  This event could have happened w/o us.  IMO, it would not have been as successful, but who knows?  But we (the post) helped call attention what was happening and explain its significance. So it is not like the rooster taking credit for the sunrise. It is rather like the rooster calling attention to the rising sun; he spreads the good news so that others can understand the significance and benefit from the light and the warmth. It is a very important task.  

Sports, like music, engage people that we often cannot engage with our programs. Also like the music, we could not possible afford to pay the participants what their talent is worth, so we are grateful that they give it freely. Above and below you can see the public diplomacy tasks. The bottom show our Rio colleague explaining to one of the kids how things work. Other pictures show the NBA athletes teaching kids; the local community showing its talents with dance and capoeira.