What is sportswashing?

Using sports to improve a bad reputation

When a country, group, or individual uses sports to distract from their reputation of wrongdoing, that's sportswashing. Sportswashers hope people's love of sports will transfer to their reputation, removing at least some negative associations.

For example, Saudi Arabia, whose human rights reputation is less than stellar, frequently attempts to sportswash by sponsoring and hosting golf events. In 2021, Saudi Arabia even went so far as to launch its own golf series, LIV Golf, to compete with the PGA Tour. This series drew famous golfers like Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson - and if they're willing to play in a Saudi-backed series, surely the country can't be so bad?

Other examples of sportswashing include:

  • Russia spending big on the 2014 Winter Olympics, to boost its international image
  • Qatar hosting the 2022 World Cup (which may have backfired, since its been discovered Qatar bribed FIFA for this right)
  • And the OG – Nazi Germany hosting the 1936 Olympics, to show off Nazi power to the world


China's frequent bids to host the Olympics are a prime example of how powerful they think sportswashing can be
For some, sportswashing can taint a game they love
For some, sportswashing can taint a game they love

Related Slang


Updated June 30, 2022

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