Sports diplomacy is a new term that describes an old practice: the unique power of sports to bring people, nations, and communities closer together via a shared love of physical pursuits. By engaging in a lighthearted activity, we are able to see past differences of opinion, culture, and beliefs. The universal thrill that avid sports participants get by playing their game of choice has a powerful ability to strengthen global ties, forging connections with others and advance foreign policy goals. It enables participants to see that people who are different from them might not be so different after all.
That is exactly what happened in 1972. For many people, the eight-game hockey series between Team Canada and the National Team of the Soviet Union provided the greatest moment in the country’s sporting history. Most expected that Canada would handily defeat the Soviet Union, but this confidence quickly disappeared when Canada lost the first game. A national myth would perish. The communist system would triumph, however symbolically. Suddenly, a hockey series prefigured the long-feared climax of the Cold War. The series was tied heading into the final game in Moscow, which ended in a dramatic fashion, with Paul Henderson scoring in the final seconds to give Canada the victory. The series would have a lasting impact on hockey in Canada and abroad.
It was the best hockey series ever played, but from the start, it was all about politics. Official talks ensued a “best versus best” series of “friendly matches”, four in each country. No cup was at stake, just global hockey supremacy. In the canadian mind, the teams also represented their societies’ conflicting political systems. Millions of Soviets on the one hand and Canadians on behalf of North Americans on the other hand watched on television, getting a glimpse into each other’s society. They beheld the enemy face to face, and what they saw were nοt nuclear missiles but other human beings devoted to hockey.
They have learned to share their game with the world, just as they have learned to share their country with people from many cultures. The globalization of their national sport has become a key aspect of their multiculturalism. That is the real legacy of 1972. At first a proxy for war, the Summit Series evolved into a paradigm of coexistence. Today, Vladislav Tretiak, the greatest goaltender in the history of the sport calls Canada his “second home”. The surviving Russian and Canadian warriors get together for reunions and ask after each other’s wives and grandchildren. In 1972, neither side lost it all. The Cold War lost.
Klein, J. (2012, September 1). In 1972, Hockey’s Cold War Boiled Over. The New York Times. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/02/sports/hockey/in-hockeys-1972-summit-series-between-canada-and-soviet-union-cold-war-got-colder.html
MacSkimming, R. (2012, August 31). Hockey put Canada’s Cold War perceptions on ice. Retrieved from: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/hockey-put-canadas-cold-war-perceptions-on-ice/article4510769/ Picture retrieved from: https://cdn.hockeycanada.ca/hockey-canada/Z-Archive/News-Release-Images/image_10eef01ca3077b24616e687f95e44251.jpg?q=60