OPINION | Today's Pastime is Tomorrow's Passion: Deputy Head of Mission, Embassy of Spain
However much everyone agrees on the huge potential of sport as a tool of cultural diplomacy, the connection between sport and diplomacy has so far gone largely unnoticed.
Spain's Diego Costa celebrate after scoring his side's opening goal with Spain's Isco during the match between Iran and Spain at the 2018 soccer World Cup in Russia. (Image: AP)
Understandably, Spain is regarded as a front-runner in Russia. We will by any standard field quite an impressive squad in Russia. Be it in Spain or elsewhere, Spanish football fans are excited about their national team. Those living now in India will gather with some friends and watch each and every one of the matches. They can count themselves lucky.
The time lag of India with European Russia is just 2 1/2 hours. World cup matches will be broadcast in India at very convenient times. More than anything else, this will be convenient for the millions of soccer lovers in India. It is to be noted that Asia is a rapidly growing audience for international soccer. Spain's La Liga is now weighing the pros and cons of changing the timing of some matches, in an attempt to meet expectations of its global audience, notably, its Asian audience.
There is growing awareness in Spain about the swelling appetite for soccer in India. And also about what this means for Spain, for India, for our bilateral relations, and for the sport itself.
However much everyone agrees on the huge potential of sport as a tool of cultural diplomacy, the connection between sport and diplomacy has so far gone largely unnoticed. With varying degrees of success, governments are striving to tap this potential. They are seeking ways for the magic of international soccer to skim the reputation of their countries. Spain does know of the importance of sports-diplomacy.
The 1992 Olympic Games gave Barcelona its final push into the elite or world-class cities. Real Madrid's recent European achievements are significantly contributing to the international status of Madrid. India is a priority country for La Liga. As a result of its relentless efforts, exchanges between India and Spain are growing. Its focus is at the grassroots level. That's the right approach. Soccer is not just a good show that can be seen on TV or live. It's much more than that. It is a precious tool to develop physical and emotional skills. La Liga is doing an excellent job in India.
When it comes to soccer, India is more or less just a new arrival. Soccer was virtually non-existent a few years ago. But what we see is very encouraging. Soccer is gaining popularity. Particularly among the young. Today's pastime is tomorrow's passion. What is just needed is an Indian global soccer star. In the meantime, India is getting familiar with the game and developing its own style. It is not fair to put Indian soccer.
(The author is the Deputy Head of Mission, Embassy of Spain in New Delhi. Views are personal)
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