Bob Bradley has almost led the Egyptian soccer team to a World Cup berth. Will he influence public opinion as well?
American citizen and former United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) soccer coach Bob Bradley took over as the Egyptian Men’s National Team coach in 2011. Since June 2012, Bradley has led the Egyptian team to six straight wins to remain unbeaten in the World Cup qualifying group stage of the Confederation of African Football (CAF). They are now in a final two-game playoff with Ghana for one of the five CAF slots to the 2014 tournament in Brazil. If Egypt wins, it will be their first trip to the World Cup since 1990, and only their third appearance ever.
Mohamed Morsi was elected the president of Egypt the same month Bradley won his first qualifier as the national team’s head coach. A year later, Morsi was removed in a coup d’état, and the country has remained in political and societal turmoil ever since. Just this weekend, 51 Egyptians were killed in clashes in Cairo.
The situation in Egypt has gotten so bad that the domestic soccer league has been canceled several times. The national team now trains outside of the country, and they even had to play their final group stage match in the empty stadium of a resort town for security reasons.
Throughout the political strife, one thing that has helped Egypt come together as a nation, even at their most divided, is soccer. And at a time when Americans are distrusted in the region because of their perceived (or not) role in the Egyptian revolution and preceding elections, Egypt’s national team—the most successful one in decades—is coached by an American. Unsurprisingly, Bradley bucks the trend and is viewed very highly by the Egyptian people.
Bradley is practicing public diplomacy through soccer. He is not attempting to directly influence how the public perceives Americans nor is he representative of the U.S. government in any capacity. Yet, he has the potential to be an opinion changer. Just by being an American citizen in a highly publicized position, he influences the way Egyptian people perceive Americans. His conduct and leadership have thus far been a very positive reflection. And the winning certainly does not hurt.
This is a benefit of public diplomacy, specifically soccer diplomacy; just by being in the country and taking part in a game both cultures understand, Bradley is shaping opinions of the U.S. Better yet, Bradley has no political connections, so his efforts are not misconstrued for being anything other than a love for the game. Further success for the Egyptian National Team could lead to a glimmer of national unity for they country. That is good for Egypt. And having an American play an unforced role in that is good for American public diplomacy.
photo credit: Ross Dettman for ESPN