Goals have been scored, referee’s decisions have been quarrelled and footballers’ egos have been inflated and, for one English goalkeeper in particular, completely deflated. But as the FIFA World Cup in South Africa draws to a close, it is easy to lose sight of the broader picture of what the pomp and circumstance surrounding the event actually stands for. To lift the ‘gold cup’ is the raison d’etat of the football team, the do-or-die moment. But what are the consequences of the World Cup for the nation that the football team represents? Does the performance of a national team make any real changes to the way in which the nations themselves are perceived? Is it possible for football to make a difference in the sphere of international relations?
The Fifa World Cup is an international event of unprecedented scale. With millions of viewers around the globe, the pressure quickly mounts upon the shoulders of the footballers to fulfil the hopes and expectations of their respective nations. Whether a success or failure, there is one certainty: the world will know about it.
The monumental capacity for publicity from such an event means that the team must always present itself in the best light possible as to avoid ridicule and even humiliation. At no other opportunity therefore could the prospect for changing the external perception of a country be so large, making sporting success in the tournament even more fatal for the broader political, cultural and economic consequences.
Rather than just a sporting occasion, the World Cup is essentially a ‘Nation-Branding’ venture in which states can use the medium of sport to change the way in which they are perceived internationally. Culture, in this sense, is a means of projecting soft power, the most effective manner to have influence in an increasingly globalised and multipolar international sphere.
So which nation, in spite of their success or failure, has made the biggest gains in terms of soft power through ‘Nation-Branding’? Which nations have lost?
South Africa, the host nation of this year’s World Cup, has had the most potential to improve its soft power through ‘Nation-Branding’; yet also, to abolish it. Nevertheless, the World Cup had been publicised as a ‘new chapter’ for the continent of Africa – a symbol of the economic progress, its ascension to the international stage. As a result of the efficient organisation and smooth running of this prolific event, the symbol of African resurgence has become a reality - international perception of Africa as a whole has a real potential to change into a positive light.
The scope for change and increase in influence through ‘Nation-Branding’, as seen particularly with the case of Africa and the World Cup, is unlimited. It is for this reason that the term is becoming increasingly significant in the study of International Relations and the field of Cultural Diplomacy. To recognise this increase in importance, the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy will be holding a week long conference on ‘Nation-Branding’ from 25th of July to 1st of August – to further explore this topic in greater detail.