China and France use sports to enhance cooperation

Chen Lijiang
Sporting ties between China and France have benefited both nations for decades. There is much to look forward to as Paris prepares to host the 2024 Summer Olympics.
Chen Lijiang

It is well known that China and France, as traditional sports powers, have enjoyed close sports interactions since the establishment of the People's Republic of China, when both countries pledged to use sports as a diplomatic tool for exchanges and cooperation.

Time flies as the wheels of history roll forward. The year 2024 marks the 60th anniversary of China and France's diplomatic ties. It is also the China-France Cultural and Tourism Year, as well as the "Year of the Olympic Games" in Paris. At this new historical juncture, we need to reflect on the history of sports and cultural exchanges between China and France to better promote sports cooperation and exchanges between the two countries and create a new condition for the new era.

History of sports exchanges between China and France

China and France began sports exchanges shortly after the People's Republic of China was established. They have maintained close ties and friendly exchanges ever since.

In 1956, the French Prime Minister dispatched a basketball team to visit China. China held table tennis competitions in France in the 1960s; in the 1970s, we saw an increase in the number of exchanges between Chinese and French sports figures, participation in international competitions held in France, and sports technical services, among other things.

Since signing the "Bilateral Sports Exchange Protocol" in February 1993, China and France's sports cooperation has become more diverse.

The hosting of the 2008 Beijing Olympics marked a new era in China-France sports cooperation, demonstrating a diverse and all-encompassing pattern. Cooperation is not confined to the national level; it also extends to other sectors of society, such as sports clubs and schools. Sports interactions between China and France have begun to flourish.

The "sports diplomacy" (la diplomatie sportive) strategy, formally presented by France in 2014, marks a watershed moment in China-French sports ties. Following the implementation of this strategy, China and France established a high-level framework for people-to-people and cultural exchanges. The exchange areas include education, science and technology, culture, health, media, sports, youth, tourism, and local collaboration.

The "Memorandum of Understanding on China-French Campus Football Cooperation" that the Chinese University Sports Association and the French University Sports Federation signed in Paris is what stands out in this mechanism. The memorandum states that both parties will engage in a variety of activities, such as foreign training for college football coaches, training of campus football teams, exchanges and tournaments, and academic activities.

Additionally, since 2015, the China University Sports Association, French University Sports Federation, and Department of International Cooperation and Exchange of the Ministry of Education have jointly sponsored the China-French University Student Sports and Arts Week. There are also events such as the China-French University Football Challenge and the Campus Football Training Camp in France. These national youth exchange programs have progressively established a brand. Since then, France and China have engaged in all-round, multi-field, and multi-level sports exchanges, ushering in a new era of China-France sports cooperation.

Strengthen sports exchanges in the new era

France is one of the countries with the most international sporting events. It has hosted two Summer Olympic Games, three Winter Olympics, two World Cups, and three European Cups. The Tour de France and the French Open are other popular brand events in France.

The 2024 Summer Olympics will be staged in Paris for the third time. The Olympic Games, as a large-scale international sporting and media event that draws global attention, will spread French culture, define France's national image, and increase France's international desirability in a very short time.

The Olympics will promote China-French cooperation, as the two nations' sports partnership has enormous potential.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Catherine Colonna recently co-hosted the sixth high-level dialogue mechanism meeting in Beijing. Both sides concurred to carry out the significant agreement the two heads of state reached by utilizing the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and France as well as the Year of Culture and Tourism to promote people-to-people and cultural exchanges between the two countries, releasing more vitality and achieving more results.

On January 5, 2024, the France-China Year of Culture and Tourism was launched at Harbin Ice and Snow World in northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, ushering in a new era of China-French sports and cultural exchange.

Looking ahead, in an international situation where the world economic recovery is difficult, international and regional hot issues occur frequently, and countries face many common challenges, sports will inevitably become a "bridge of non-governmental friendship" and "civilizations and common prosperity" between countries to promote human society and jointly realize that "each civilization celebrates its unique beauty, and appreciates "when we value civilized diversity, universal harmony comes into being."

China and France are expected to pursue a better and deeper "sports diplomacy" cooperation approach in the context of building a community with a shared future for humanity. China-France relations will evolve in the direction of win-win collaboration, creating a new setting for China-France sports and people-to-people exchange at a new historical juncture.

(The author is a professor at the School of Journalism and Communication, Shanghai University of Sport.)

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