Sports Diplomacy and the ‘L.A. Moment’

This feature was included in CPD's 2022–2023 Annual Report. View this and other stories here.

Over the next five years, sports diplomacy scholars and practitioners will be watching one city in particular—Los Angeles.

Lighting the Torch

Since the dawn of the Olympic Games in ancient Greece, sports have played a vital role in cultural exchange and peacebuilding between civilizations. Today, sports are a powerful vehicle for promoting mutual respect, unity, and dialogue among nations.
Sports diplomacy—the practice of using sporting events, initiatives, and exchanges to achieve international goals—is an oft-overlooked facet of global affairs, serving to build bridges, amplify soft power, and foster connections that extend beyond national boundaries.
Over the next five years, sports diplomacy scholars and practitioners will be watching one city in particular—Los Angeles—host of the 2026 FIFA World Cup and 2028 Summer Olympics. “The L.A. Moment” is upon us, but not for the first time. Los Angeles has long been a sports bellwether for the U.S., having hosted the Olympics in 1932 and 1984. The city remains a sports mecca, now boasting twelve professional teams. Moreover, Los Angeles—the undisputed entertainment capital of the world—is also home to sports media giants such as ESPN, FOX, and the NFL Studios.
Integral to Los Angeles’ sports culture, USC has a rich history of athletic excellence on the world stage. USC has produced more Olympic athletes, medalists and gold medal-winners than any other U.S. university. It is also one of the few schools in America with more women’s teams (12) than men’s programs (9). USC is home to world-class fields, centers and stadiums, including its recently renamed
track stadium, Allyson Felix Field, and the iconic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which will host an opening ceremony for the 2028 Olympics.

Out Front on Sports Diplomacy

Sports diplomacy is a key area of study at the Center on Public Diplomacy. The Center recognizes the unique potential of sports to promote cross-cultural and mutual understanding, to dispel stereotypes, to expand appreciation for diversity, to cultivate leadership, and to develop capacity for athletes to build stable communities and strong civil society institutions in the U.S. and abroad.
The Center actively conducts research, provides training, and hosts events on topics such as sport-tech diplomacy, the interplay of sports and city diplomacy, and the public diplomacy significance of “mega-events” like the Olympics and World Cup. Last year, the Center published a report by author Edward Elliott that marked one of the first external analyses of U.S. sports diplomacy infrastructure. We also published a deeply researched analysis on the mechanisms and impact of the recent World Cup in Qatar, authored by CPD Visiting Scholar and U.S. Public Diplomat in
Residence, Matthew Asada.

Next-Gen Sports Diplomacy

Sports diplomacy will always be grounded in direct face-to-face interaction and genuine human engagement. But today, our digital life interacts ever
more with the physical realm. Digital technology offers an exciting opportunity for sports diplomacy
to grow and expand. 
A key issue in advancing contemporary sports diplomacy is how to deploy next-generation storytelling and innovation. USC faculty and students are rising to the challenge, experimenting
with new forms of sports storytelling ranging from immersive VR experiences, to AI-driven media, to esports platforms. As the boundaries between physical and virtual spaces continue to blur, the digital components of sports diplomacy will become ever more crucial in amplifying its impact. USC Annenberg and the Center on Public Diplomacy are committed to writing the next chapter of sports diplomacy, rooted in storytelling, inclusion, entrepreneurship, and innovation.


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