• Soft power;
  • sports mega-events;
  • international prestige

Research Highlights and Abstract

  • The article discusses how states are increasingly using sports mega-events as part of their ‘soft power’ strategies
  • The limited literature on ‘soft power’ and sports mega-events fails to either explain the concept and how it pertains to sport or provide examples that operationalize the concept empirically.
  • Further research can build on the idea of sports mega-events being used for public diplomacy; the case of Germany, it could be argued, has led many ‘emerging’ states to seek to bid for and host such events.
  • We show how the UK—with a very different international image to Germany prior to 2006—engage in a different manner in its ‘soft power’ strategy.
  • Finally, the macro-level concept of ‘soft power’ offers at least a partial answer to the unanswered question (in the sports studies literature) of why states host sports ‘megas’.

The potential positive impact on a nation's image has moved from being a welcome consequence to a significant justification for investing in hosting sports mega-events. Mobilising Joseph Nye's concept of ‘soft power’ we empirically investigate Germany's strategic use of a sports ‘mega’ (the 2006 FIFA World Cup) to successfully alter their image among ‘foreign publics’. We then analyse the example of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games for Britain's international prestige. For both cases we draw on and analyse official government documents and newspaper sources written before and after the Games. The findings reveal the stark contrast between Germany's and Britain's sport and ‘soft power’ strategies: the former undertook a long-term, well-planned and resourced approach to altering its poor international image; the latter appeared far less concerned about capitalising on the Olympics to enhance Britain's (seemingly robust) international image.