G7 2016: Global Summitry and the Beautiful Game

International Media Centre – G7 Summit, Ise-Shima
By The G7 GLI team

This blog was originally featured on the Global Policy Journal.

Football has a relatively long history of disrupting the serious business of global summitry. When Tony Blair welcomed the G8 leaders to Birmingham in 1998, the afternoon meetings on the second day of the summit were rescheduled to enable Blair to watch his beloved Newcastle United play Arsenal in the final of the FA Cup. Japanese Prime Minister Hashimoto Ryutaro joined Blair in sending a handwritten good luck message to his team, but to little avail, as they lost 2-0, a victory for a team managed by a Frenchman that French President Jacques Chirac no doubt relished.

Twelve years later and Canada hosted back-to-back G8 and G20 summits. The media centre in Toronto screened every live game of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa for the entertainment of the journalists in attendance. Sadly not for one of the GLI team, who still remembers hearing cries of despair and joy in the background while he was busy interviewing Foreign Ministry officials as Germany ensured England’s early exit from the competition.

At the 2012 G8 Summit at Camp David, the leaders took time out to watch Chelsea become champions of Europe by defeating Bayern Munich much to the well-publicised joy of UK Prime Minister David Cameron (and thereby adding to the question of where his footballing loyalties lie, as mentioned below) and the visible chagrin of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

In Germany, the welcoming ceremony and speech by the Minister-President of Bavaria, Horst Seehofer, was cut short so that the European Champions League match between Barcelona and Juventus could be beamed over the entertainment system in the media centre. Although this did usher in a welcomed break from the traditional accordion driven whipcracking music from Traunstein, it also left the room drowned out in television commentary, effectively ruining any opportunity for cross-cultural socializing.

However, these intersections between global summitry and the beautiful game have recently begun to elbow their way onto the actual agenda. This was seen at the 2015 Antalya Summit of the G20 when Cameron sought to bring the on-going controversy at FIFA into broader discussions of corruption, relegating global health to the near bottom of the agenda.

This all seems to be little more than an ill-judged publicity stunt; an attempt to appear ‘authentic’ by association with the world’s favourite sport. But leaders must proceed with caution as this strategy can blow up in their faces, as David Cameron experienced last year when in a speech celebrating the diversity and multiple loyalties that can exist in the UK today, he confused Aston Villa, the football team he usually professes to support, with West Ham.

Similar dangers exist not only for individual G7 leaders but also the reputation of the group itself. If leaders can take time out of their discussions of the most pressing global issues of the day to watch a football match, then it would seem only natural that their effective treatment of these issues and the rationale for meeting in the first place will come under scrutiny.

Fortunately this year the European Champions League final is scheduled to take place the day after the summit closes. In any case, it is an all-Spanish affair so little mileage exists for G7 leaders to appear as a man or woman of the people. Hopefully, without any such distractions, they should find the business of focusing on the agenda less of a challenge.

 

The G7 Team: Garrett Brown, John Casson, Rachel Claringbull, Hugo Dobson, Elliott Glover, John Jacobs, Magdalena Krakau and Greg Stiles. Global Leadership Initiative, University of Sheffield. The team would like to wish Sheffield Wednesday all the best in the Championship play-off on Sunday.

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