The International Soft Power of Hardball
Tim KIRBY | 16.04.2019 | WORLD / Americas

The International Soft Power of Hardball

President Trump’s enemies have accused him of every possible form of wrongdoing that could be done by a leader even before taking office as if his hands were in every pot related to American society. However a broken clock is right twice a day and the Orange Man has made his mark on the great American pastime. This may sound odd but politics and international relations have a much bigger role in sports than one would think and Trump is at bat to swat Cubans from playing Major League Baseball.

As Obama floundered to make a legacy out of a Presidency that ultimately failed to create any significant “hope” or “change” he made some small gestures to Cuba so that it would seem as though he fixed relations between the two countries. This included allowing Cuban athletes to play professional baseball in America with much less bureaucracy and personal risk. If the objective was to improve actual relations completely lifting the embargo and restoring full diplomatic relations with Cuba would have been better, but at least a dozen or so Cubans get to play in the MLB more easily, what a triumph of diplomacy for #44!

Trump has put the kibosh on this token offering of peace to the Cubans for mostly ideological reasons related to free markets, free labor etc. and an accusation that the Cubans are stirring things up in Venezuela.

Trying to make peace via baseball is not a good option, however using baseball as a means of pushing influence into Cuban society is a fantastic option, which Obama wisely did try to do by having an MLB exhibition came in Havana. Sport is a strong means of projecting soft power and bringing America to Cuba via baseball is much better than letting a tiny unnoticeable pack of Cubans into American pro sports.

In order to show the immense soft power potential of international sports let’s use a hypothetical example. What if the US/Canadian NHL were to fall apart, (which may actually happen in our lifetimes) leaving the vacuum to be filled by the Russian KHL which already has 25 teams in 7 countries in Europe and Asia with surprisingly good talent. Sports leagues often lean towards monopolies because the one big league can buy all the talent leaving the scraps to various minor leagues that garner little interest or profit. (The KHL is a rare exception to this). This is why most major sports leagues in the US are the result of buyouts of smaller leagues generations ago. In the event of an NHL collapse any hockey talent in the world would either go to the KHL to make money or make $50,000 a year as a minor leaguer.

Given this hypothetical climate this Russian hockey super league could begin to make cultural and political dictates. The KHL could demand that at all international competitions everything must be written and spoken in Russian as it is the “official language of hockey”. All bus drivers, waitresses or anyone connected to the process MUST learn Russian even if fans are coming from China and Finland. On public transport even if no one speaks Russian all stops would have to have a Russian translation with horrible broken pronunciation of local cities like “Nyoo-EEork” and “Cheekago”. But that would be just the tip of this iceberg.

The “Juvenile Justice” programs in Scandinavia are disgusting to most Russians, and the league could demand that the Finns change their policy or lose their club in Helsinki. Juvenile Justice is “degenerate” after all. The league could promote some sort of anti-diversity policy where if the Chinese club is not made up of 75%+ Chinese then it is out, since most Russians do not respect national teams made of foreigners. Maybe most of all the league’s millions and millions of viewers could be subjected to all sorts of social advertising and “charity” projects that suit Moscow’s tastes. Coaches and players could be fined or suspended for not acknowledging the glory of the victory of the Russian people and Great Stalin in WW2 for example. Social programs about “how to be a real man” and the value of “multipolarity” would be part of every youth hockey organization.

The culturally imperialist demands of our example are exactly the types made by FIFA and the Olympics. Sport especially with its various “charity” programs, pushes an agenda across the globe from one civilization to others. This form of soft power is inevitable but rarely recognized. As it stands today, pretty much all serious sports leagues are from the Anglo-Saxon world and spread that culture’s worldview outwards and they all push a Progressive, SJWish agenda, wrapped up in a pseudo masculine package for easy consumption by the men who are the majority of sports viewership. Although there may be some positive aspects to FIFA’s diversity awards and demands that fans boo the other team politely and without politically incorrect insults, or that the NFL makes the players wear pink to show solidarity with women once a year regarding breast cancer, you can see these are obviously politically motivated forms of PR that get a huge amount of attention and affect society way more than any poster at a bus stop.

Sport connects deeply with our tribal mentality making even people who have zero interest in football watch as the national team plays with sweat on their brow from nerves. These sports teams become part of our identities and that is why there is no option or means to get rid of them. Nations that are powerful with a strong identity want to be in FIFA or the Olympics. The thing is that for nations like China and Russia who want a multipolar world the dynamics of these and other organizations need to stop being so unipolar and culturally exportive.

Baseball is a cornerstone of Cuba but the problem is that the MLB will always be bigger and always be in America. This is a dynamic that does not work in Cuba’s favor and Trump understands this. Sadly most people do not see the power and influence that international sports have and how they can be used as a weapon of soft power. The power in Cuba needs to understand that if it let’s enough baseball in, it will let the rest of US influence in along with it, perhaps Trump keeping the countries divided will work out for Havana. 

Tags: FIFA  NFL  Cuba