The Socceroos recently visited Brasilia to play an international friendly against the Brazilian football team, arguably the best team in the world. The visit was a powerful reminder of just effective 'sports diplomacy' can be.
Brazil won six-zero, in a match that played out in front of more than 41,000 fans – on 7 September, Brazil's national day – and was broadcast to tens of millions throughout Brazil.
Australia, though, had a major public diplomacy win from the visit. Lead-up events organised by the Australian Embassy showcased Australia and Australian policies to Brazilian audiences – taking advantage of a great opportunity to reinforce favourable perceptions of Australia.
Hundreds of children watched a Socceroos training session and afterwards met the players. The students were beneficiaries of two Diplomatic Aid Program (DAP) projects supported by the Embassy – one that provides access to sailing facilities for children with disabilities; the other an integrated program of sports and education run by a local junior football club in one of Brasilia's poorest neighbourhoods. For many, the encounter with the Socceroos was their first exposure to an international team.
The Socceroos attended a reception for some 200, including members of the local business community, officials and politicians, at the Ambassador's residence. Socceroos team captain, Lucas Neill, presented a signed team jersey to the President of the Australia-Brazil Congressional Friendship Group, Senator Sergio Souza, and a DAP cheque to the local junior football club.
While several street vox pops prior to the game revealed some Brazilians were still hard-pressed to identify anything other than basic facts about Australia, a subset of public diplomacy that we call 'sports diplomacy' was clearly a winner in Brazil.