SOTP2016 - The State of Play: Sports diplomacy and development in the Pacific

Nigel Vagana presenting at SOTP2016 conference. Image SSGM

The Australian government reaffirmed its interest in sports diplomacy and sport for development in the region with the launch of the Pacific Sports Partnerships in 2015 as part of DFAT’s broader Australian Sports Diplomacy Strategy 2015-2018. Sports diplomacy involves the intentional use of sporting events and people to undertake representative or diplomatic activities by government. Sport for development refers to the use of sport as a tool in development assistance and poverty alleviation. The use of sports for diplomacy and development is not new. Sport is often used to remind people that although nation states and political boundaries may separate people, sport and the values of sport have the ability to bring people together. To this end, the use of sport by Australia for diplomatic and development purposes in the Pacific can be a savvy political tool in building enduring relations with Pacific nations. Sport, most notably rugby and rugby league, have a religious-like following in nations such as Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Samoa. As the concentrated effort to recruit Pacific athletes from within the region continues, it is important to critically discuss Pacific sports diplomacy and sports for development issues in relation to broader political-economic and socio-cultural debates that are reshaping sporting traditions and challenging power relations within the industry and the region. This panel will draw on lessons learnt from recent Pacific sports diplomacy and development activities utilising the NRL. This includes the annual Pacific Rugby League Test matches held in Australia, as well as the NRL sports-for-development project in Papua New Guinea, League Bilong Laif.

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