Public diplomacy

'Sports diplomacy': the Socceroos visit Brazil

November 2013

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.

Socceroo players signing autographs for children.
The Socceroos took the time to meet and greet young aspiring footballers including local children from the Salão Ajax football club.