How football could help smooth Brexit

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Football could have a key impact in helping smooth the Brexit process, says an academic at the University of Salford.
In a Conversation article published this week, Simon Chadwick, Professor of Sports Enterprise at the University of Salford Business School, writes that the sport could be a key way for the UK to exercise ‘soft power’ as Brexit negotiations go on.

Professor Chadwick writes that China is already using football to leverage world influence and that the UK could follow suit, especially following a record £560m deal for Chinese TV company Suning to show the Premier League.

He continues: “Sport is a classic instrument of soft power. It enables a country to engage with the world, communicate a set of values it seeks to uphold, project an image it wants others to have of it and to gain access to resources and markets around the world.

“For the UK, football is becoming an increasingly important weapon in its soft power arsenal. With one of the most popular leagues in the world, the effects of international television coverage give a big boost to Britain’s reputation and influence abroad.

“This is why Suning’s Premier League deal is especially significant: the record-breaking fee, the promise of better coverage, and the chance to engage a broader audience is good not only for the league itself but also for the British government.

“China has long used football stadium diplomacy to secure access to natural resources around the world.

“And China is not alone in using football as a channel to globally exert its influence. Arguably, the most prominent exponent of football as an instrument of soft power is the UK, which consistently ranks highly in global soft power indexes.

“The British government, via its cultural arm and main instrument of soft power, the British Council, already works with the Premier League through its Premier Skills programme. This uses football as a fun way to gather people overseas and help them learn English. But football, and sport more generally, plays a much bigger role in terms of attracting investment into the UK.

“It is part of an ongoing campaign of global engagement. During the summer, at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Britain hosted a number of events under the “sport is great” moniker. The soft message of these events was that sport is a positive, uniting force that Britain is keen to be part of. Yet the harder, underpinning message was that, post-Brexit, Britain is newly open for business and needs to reset some of its trade and investment relationships.

“Some observers, however, criticise both the cynical nature of the way in which Britain is using its sport and the way in which the country seems to be prepared to compromise its supposed principles.

“Such a criticism is consistent with a more commonly held view that football has sold its soul for television money, sponsorships and overseas investment. To this list, we can probably now add geopolitics and soft power. But we shouldn’t be surprised, for that is what football has become.

“While China and Qatar have the pockets to grow their soft power, Britain and the Premier League are keeping apace by drawing on their experience and existing sporting power.”