Studying the Relationship between Sport and Foreign Policy on the Basis of Pierre Bourdieu’s Field Theory

Document Type : Research Paper


1 Assistant Professor, Faculty of Law & Political Science, University of Tehran, Iran

2 PhD in International Relations, Faculty of Law & Political Science, University of Tehran, Iran


Modern Sport has a significant role and position in current international system, and can be considered a multi-faceted phenomenon with political, economic, cultural and geopolitical aspects and clear consequences for domestic and foreign policy of most states. In spite of the claim made by international  sport organizations about the separation of  sport and politics and the lack of political manipulation of sport events, one should acknowledge the substantial impact of internal-external politics on sport. Accordingly, modern sport has gradually played a significant role in all sorts of interactions among states. In fact, sport has become an international and global phenomenon which can be a large part of foreign policy agenda of most states. There has been a large number of studies, primarily conducted by sociologists regarding the nature and extent of relationship between sport and politics. In fact, there is a specific sub-discipline called sociology of sport, which aims at studying the social aspects of sport. However, a review of literature covering books and articles written by scholars concerning theories of international relations in the academia reveal that scant attention has been paid to the linkage between sport and foreign policy. In general, there has been a degree of inattention and neglect of the political aspect of the phenomenon of sport in the theories of international relations. Since a theoretical and conceptual framework is needed to better understand the importance of the role of sport in foreign policy, the authors design a conceptual model inspired by Bourdieu's field theory in their quest to describe and explain the nature of foreign policy-sport linkage. The main research questions are: 1. What is the nature of the relationship between sport and foreign policy? 2. To what extent can sport influence diplomatic relations, and the advancement of peace in the international system? In the research hypothesis, it is  postulated that international sport, as an effective instrument of foreign policy, contributes to goodwill and the advancement of peace in international system by creating opportunities for public diplomacy and shaping soft power of countries. For hypothesis-testing, the authors adopt a qualitative approach, and focus on sports as a political phenomenon. Based on a careful analysis of available evidence and written material, and the use of the two elements of "field and capital" in Bourdieu's theory, they explain how various governments may use sport diplomacy and soft power to achieve their foreign policy goals. The main conclusion of the research show that international sport has been used by states to fulfil their foreign policy objectives. The more successful countries are the ones which have endeavored to invest more in national capacity-building in order to become more competitive in international sports events, instead of stressing the use of force and coercion in their interactions with other international actors. They have reaped the benefit of increasing ‘capital’ (in the form of prestige, dignity, acceptability, attractiveness, influence and economic benefits), and then using the ‘capital’ to attain their goals and secure their national interests in an increasingly competitive international arena. No country should ignore the issue of sport, particularly international sport as a useful source of soft power. Furthermore, international relations scholar should be more attentive to the role of international sport in national foreign policy agenda settings, and international power politics.   


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