Sports as soft power


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: na

Mains level: Soft power

soft powerContext

  • Increased interest, especially by smaller nations in the world, in investing more and doing well in elite sports in international sporting events boosts a nation’s chances of attaining soft power.
  • India’s medal tally at recent International sports events demonstrate the country’s soft power on the global stage and encourage working towards the status of a great “geopolitical actor”.

What is soft power?

  • Origin:
    • As far back as the 4th century BC, Kautilya (chankyaniti) had propounded the concept of Saam(advice or cajole),daam(pay or bribe),dand(punish),bhed(exploit secrets) which acquired western touch and can be understood by Soft power, smart power, hard power, and sharp power respectively.
    • Joseph Nye introduced the concept of “soft power” in the late 1980s. For Nye, power is the ability to influence the behavior of others to get the outcomes you want.
  • Meaning:
  • Soft power is the ability of a country to persuade others to do what it wants without force or coercion.
  • Soft power is the ability to influence the behavior of others to get the outcomes you want.

soft powerWhy Soft power is so significant?

Use of ‘Soft Power’ includes the number of cultural missions such as language schools, Olympic Medals and the quality of a country’s overall growth. Soft power produces following things:

  • Familiarity: If people know more about your country, culture, sports, and its talents, businesses, and resources, then soft power is enhanced.
  • Reputation: For a nation to be attractive and a role model for others, its overall reputation must be strong and positive.
  • Influence: A direct measure of the perceived presence and impact that your country has in other countries
  • Business/Innovation/Sports: The attractiveness of a country’s economic model, its digital engagement with the world, performance in sports etc.
  • Government: Showcases the ability of country’s political leadership and what it delivers to its people in different arenas.
  • Multi-Alignment: As a country rises up the ‘Soft Power’ list, more and more outside parties align themselves with the common goals of that country.

Why the Sports being used as a tool of soft power in modern international relations?

Sport can be used as tool of soft power both internationally and domestically.

  • International platform: Sports provide a platform for countries to showcase their culture, values and tradition.
  • Puts a Better image of a country: Sports as a tool to achieve social, political, and financial goals, and improve the image of the country.
  • International exposure: The focus on culture and peaceful values in sports make it a useful tool for countries to use soft power to achieve international goals and improve their public diplomacy.
  • Reducing differences: Sports provides a platform for trust-building; and reconciliation, integration and anti-racism.
  • Learning from China’s Case:
  • Dongfeng Liu (International Professor of Sport Management) in his survey on China’s performance in the Olympics he found that a country’s Olympic achievement has a positive effect on its national soft power.
  • As china is a communist country and reputation about human rights is not good, so China uses its superiority in elite sports to build “people-to-people” relations with other countries. For example, athletes from African countries such as Madagascar are trained in swimming, badminton, table tennis, etc. in China, which helps Beijing create a positive impact on a wider population and result in better formal relations as well.
  • There is also China’s memorandum of understanding with countries such as Kenya so that Chinese runners can train with Kenyan athletes, as they are among the best in the world when it comes to long-distance running.

soft powerIntrospection on India’s performance at recent International Sports events

  • It is being said that the golden period of Indian sports may have begun as at the Tokyo Olympics and then the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games (CWG) are examples of a good performance.
  • India’s medal tally in the Tokyo Olympics Games — seven — was its most decorated Olympic Games in Indian history.
  • At the Commonwealth games (CWG) 2022, Indian athletes won 61 medals, including 22 gold.
  • India has one of the world’s poorest population-to-medal ratios when it comes to the Olympics.
  • Ensuring competent coaches, and having adequate funding and more sports academics still remain major issues even decades later
  • India spends only three paise per day per capita on sports. In contrast China spends 1 per day per capita.

What can be done to increase the country’s sporting performance and soft power?

  • Train Indian players overseas:
  • India should concentrate on forging MoUs with nations that excel in specific sports and train Indian players overseas.
  • For example, Australia and the United Kingdom can assist us in swimming given their standing here.
  • When it comes to running, negotiating collaborative training agreements with African countries such as Kenya would be ideal.
  • No Politics over assistance:
  • There should be no politics in seeking or even offering assistance.
  • For example China has requested Indian assistance in improving cricket development in China (Chongqing city).
  • Private Investment:
  • Private investment needs to be harnessed to develop infrastructure. The better a country performs in sporting events the greater a sports person’s interest in their sports atmosphere. This also creates a huge market for private players to invest in.
  • For example, leading corporate houses in India have already shown how their active participation and investment can improve sporting performance as a result of unique corporate sports programmes.
  • Public –private partnership at grass root :
  • The Government should also work on a public-private partnership (PPP) model to create basic sporting infrastructure.
  • As recommended by NITI Aayog, at the district level too so that talent can be captured at an early stage.


  • Sports as a tool of soft power had always been a key element of leadership from the ancient times. Sports provide an international platform to develop an attitude of unity in a divided multi-polar modern world.

Mains Question

Q. Sports provide an international platform to develop an attitude of unity and influence others in a divided multi-polar modern world. Discuss in this context that soft power is not an end but a means to an end.


Get an IAS/IPS ranker as your 1: 1 personal mentor for UPSC 2024

Attend Now

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments


Join us across Social Media platforms.

💥Mentorship New Batch Launch
💥Mentorship New Batch Launch