Guest Post by Fernando Márquez.
In the Diplomacy that is used at the international level, there are several ways and tools to negotiate that can modify the possible results and solutions in the Diplomatic negotiations.
The Diplomacy has been traditionally characterized as used by Politics, Diplomats, Chief of States (Presidents, Prime Ministers) and it has been used almost always in economic, political and security issues. But lately, a new stage and form of Diplomacy has been developing: The Sports Diplomacy.
This Diplomacy, although not conventional, has been developing since the last 5 years, having great results and projections in 2013, specifically with a curse: The Kuril island’s conflict.
This conflict has been happening between Russia and Japan, since the XIX century, where these 2 countries have been fighting and negotiating for the control of the Kuril Islands.
After the end of the WWII and the signing of the San Francisco Treaty (where it was established that the Kuril Islands would go to Russia), there wasn’t any important approach between the 2 nations in order to reach an agreements or negotiate a possible solution for the conflict. This situation didn’t show any possibility to resolver until February of 2013 when the Diplomatic negotiation approaches began to revive in the topic.
The most interesting fact of this situation is that the new approaches didn’t begin with the traditional Diplomacy, these new negotiations and the advances that are happening are due to the Sports Diplomacy.
In order to have the appropriate context of the topic is essential to know that inside the Sports Diplomacy that is resolving around this topic the main actor is the sport and discipline of Judo, Japanese sport of great tradition at international level.
The 2 main actors of the negotiations and the openness in the Kuril topic are Vladimir Putin (Russia’s President) and Shinzo Abe (Japan’s Prime Minister), who, curiously, are both black belts in Judo; this means that both of them are experts in the sport and have practiced it for a long time.
Vladimir Putin isn’t only black belt in Judo, he is also 8th. Dan in the sport; for, being an actual Judo athlete, for being a great promoter of the sport in Russia and at the international level, for having published books about Judo, and other achievements. Putin is not only another Judaica, Putin began his judo career when he was 11 years old in St. Petersburg (his hometown), being a champion of his city several years, he was also Leningrad champion, he won 3rd. Place in the National Junior Championships, he was Honorary President of the European Judo Union in 2006 and he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Judo by the Yong University in South Korea in 2010.
The fact that Putin and Abe are black belts in Judo is one of the principal aspects that have favored the bilateral approach by High Diplomacy (Diplomacy between Chiefs of State) in the negotiations for resolving the conflict of the Kuril Islands.
Since February of 2013 the official declarations between these Chiefs of State have been positive in the means of having a possible solution for this conflict and how it’s going to be resolved here, is where Judo enters the scene.
In these declarations, Putin & Abe, agreed on applying a judo “formula” called “hiki-wake”, which would help to find a solution to the conflict.
“Both parts agreed that the only possible solution is by the principle of “neither winner nor loser. This is what Japanese call “hike-wake”, term that Putin knows perfectly as Judaica”, added Putin’s spokesperson.
During the negotiations and advances, Putin & Abe have reached the agreement that to solve this conflict its needed the principle of “hiki-wake”, in which there is no absolute winner, this means that the control over the Kuril Islands won’t be totally for one country; the negotiations resolve around dividing the Islands between these 2 countries and in the meanwhile having a joint administration of the Islands.
The determinant factor in this case has been, without doubts, Judo and Sports Diplomacy, due to the principles and values of Judo, like respect, honor, tolerance, it has been possible an advance in the topic.
The Kuril Islands case hasn’t been the first case in which the Sports Diplomacy has taken part. Before the Kuril Islands case, another Sports Diplomacy case happened in Columbia.
For the purpose of developing closer International Relations, the Colombian Ministry of Exterior includes athletes. National Delegations of Colombian athletes have visited countries like Jamaica, Argentina, Germany and France.
In Columbia there are positive cases where the sport has been used as an opportunity for developement, specially in the zones that are more insecure.
In Paris, the Project “Club Massy Essone” is similar, it’s main goal is the social inclusion of vulnerable people. The Project is presented to the ghetto youth as an option to get over poverty and delinquency. In Paris, the sport used in the Project is rugby.
Due to this Project similar to the one in Columbia, the Columbian Rugby delegation visited Paris to develop Sports Diplomacy relations and to have mutual cooperation.
Luis Armando Soto, who was in charge if the Direction for Cultural Affairs of the Columbian Ministry of Exterior, commented that when María Angela Holguín assumed the leadership of the Ministry (August, 2010), she had as a priority to go for the Sports Diplomacy, because “the sports open very generous doors”. The Sports Diplomacy is to approach to other countries, to share and cooperate by the sports.
He also commented: “If France has similar Projects with us, why don’t we share experiences and work together; why don’t we Exchange athletes, know the Project and make better approaches.”
In this kind of Diplomacy we can appreciate what experts call “soft power”, those cooperation bridges that governments and actors develop to try to extend their influence outside their borders.
And as the last case to be considered as Sports Diplomacy in this article, we have the case of the retired Basketball Player Dennis Rodman and his visits to North Korea, together with his friendship with Kim Jong-Un, North Korea’s leader.
Rodman has realized several visits since 2013 to North Korea, now that he’s te National Basketball Team trainer in that country, added to the friendship that states Rodman that has with Kim.. 
On January 8th of 2014 he made his 4th, private visit to the country to celebrate Kim’s birthday.
Rodman states that his intentions are based on what he calls “Basketball Diplomacy”, these visits are supposedly are making that Rodman is “opening the gates” of a very controlled country, exposing the people of the country to new ideas and brining information to US that hasn’t been obtained by official ways.
Although Rodman hasn’t explained more details about his advances on the topic, in previous occasions he has highlighted that he seeks to develop an equal relation between people of US and of North Korea. He also declared that Kim is a leader that is interested in favoring trust between athlete interchange.
US experts in International Relations like Scott Snyder, Director of the Politics Program between Korea and US in the External Relations Council and Victor Cha, Asian Studies Director of Georgetown University have highlighted that this approach between Rodman and Kim has been positive, because it has shown data that US didn’t have before, like the fact that Kim has a daughter and the exact age of Kim, they also comment that is positive for the people in North Korea, because they are being exposed to different and new ideas. However, both of them conclude that these visits won’t generate a significant change in the Relations between both countries.
As we can appreciate in the analyzed examples, the Sports Diplomacy is incorporating new and positive aspects and results to the Diplomatic Negotiations and International Relations between countries. Now the great challenge is to demonstrate that this Diplomacy not only develops approaches, but also resolves conflicts.