Jean-Baptiste Guégan, a Paris-based lecturer on geopolitics and sport recently said that “Today, sporting imagery matters for the public, and that is what soft power is about”. He could not be more right.
As a matter of fact, last weekend, the Ryder Cup took place for the first time in France, in a course beyond the Palace of Versailles. This golf competition is the world’s most-watched sporting event after the Olympics and the football World Cup. It is also a high-sponsoring event, supposed to give an image of wealthy nations to the rest of the world. The principle is simple, only two teams are competing: the US golf team against the top Europeans players.
Despite the fact that this competition is the last and strongest vestige of a western entre-soi, this also appears to be a strong US use of soft power. Indeed, what’s happening in the fairway has to be interpreted as a political metaphor by US president, Donald Trump. Thus, Trump is using popular figures such as Tiger Woods to his purpose and it actually speaks to his electorate and beyond.
For instance, he is hence a strong support to Tiger Woods on the public scene and also by sponsoring him. In respond, Tiger woods is showing a sort of loyalty towards him, that Trumps is reusing. Last month, Woods was questioned on Trump’s controversial immigration policies and his answer was: “Well, he’s the president of the United States. You have to respect the office. No matter who is in the office, you may like, dislike the personality or the politics, but we all must respect the office.”
Afterwards, Trumps immediately tweeted in response: “The Fake News Media worked hard to get Tiger Woods to say something that he didn’t want to say. Tiger wouldn’t play the game – he is very smart. More importantly, he is playing great golf again!” (-what a pun.)
So, Trump’s diplomatic politics can also come through golf. After his election, he played rounds with the Japanese Prime Minister with a 3,800 dollars golden golf club. The American diplomat Richard Haas wrote in 2009 what he called the “fairway theory of history”: how countries with numerous golf courses tend to be friendlier towards the US. We can say that it can still be accurate nowadays. Trump does not just love golf, he owns numerous courses, all over the world.
However, it must not be forgotten that the political metaphor using the Ryder Cup is above all a communication strategy used by a political class and nothing more. I doubt that the players on the courses, who know each other and spend time together, are acting according to the wishes of world geopolitical chessboards.