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Sport Diplomacy at the 2018 Winter Olympics

February 23, 2018

Craig Esherick and Bob Baker speak to the benefits of sport diplomacy.

Two George Mason University professors say the sport diplomacy that has taken place during the Winter Olympics will resonate far beyond PyeongChang, South Korea following the Games’ conclusion.

Mason’s Bob Baker and Craig Esherick say sport is among the universal languages capable of bridging the stereotypes and misconceptions that fuel tensions among nation states. It’s the crucible of competition and the close proximity of many of the world’s top athletes for an extended period that allows people from different cultures to get to know one another.

“I think, in this day and age, it’s important for students to have a global perspective and have an appreciation for diverse cultures,” said Baker, the director of Mason’s Sport, Recreation and Tourism Division. “We’re a universal society now and sports is a language that everybody speaks.”

Esherick, the former Georgetown University men’s basketball head coach who now serves as the Sport Management academic program coordinator at Mason’s College of Education and Human Development, is under no illusion that coaches and athletes are diplomats, but says they often serve as an effective frontline in diplomacy.

Sport diplomacy has potentially taken on even added significance in PyeongChang with athletes, coaches and leaders from North Korea in rare close proximity to their counterparts from both South Korea and the U.S. at a time of increasingly heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

In what could be an encouraging sign, the reclusive North Korea sent a team of athletes to the Games to train and compete alongside South Korean athletes as a unified Korea.

“This truly is an opportunity that could work to the benefit of both countries,” Esherick said. “So that’s the value of sport.”

The 2018 Winter Olympics conclude on Sunday, Feb. 25.

Sport diplomacy is hardly new, as President Richard Nixon used his so-called “Ping-Pong Diplomacy” to make initial inroads with China in 1972. Likewise, an American wrestling team first traveled to Iran in 1998, marking the first contact of any sort between the U.S. and that country in nearly 20 years.

Bob Baker can be reached at 703-993-3727 or

Craig Esherick can be reached at 703-993-9922 or at

For more information, contact John Hollis at 703-993-8781 or

About George Mason  

George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls 36,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility.