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International Showdown by Proxy

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"Sport is war minus the shooting."

Our story is about a valiant hero, a professional sports/video games/pogosticking champion who is preparing or going to a major tournament for his preferred skill. Normally, these tournaments are contained entirely within the main character's country, as in there are no foreigners competing.

But for this special episode/movie, there is a great threat on the horizon ... there is a foreigner rival who might just be even better than the hero, if not possibly the best in the whole world!

For some reason, this coincidental clash of titans from across the globe always seems to turn into a showdown between the two representative countries. For example: Who is better, America's best player or Japan's best player? It's implied that whoever wins proves that their country is better as a whole, not just at this particular sport.

Used in different mediums for different reasons. Often used patriotically, because the main character lives in your country, and they win! Sometimes used to introduce a new archnemesis and spice up the show's competitors. When the competition is literally an alternative to war between nations, see Make Games, Not War. This is probably a trope because it tends to happen in Real Life.

See also Combat by Champion.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Hajime no Ippo: The match of Takamura against Bryan Hawk for the world title. It takes place in a Japanese boxing hall, so basically the entire audience is rooting for Takamura. It helps that Bryan Hawk is blatantly racist against the "weak" Japanese.
  • The World Youth Cup arc in Eyeshield 21 sees an all-star team of players from various American football teams seen in the series (including, of course, Sena and several of the Devil Bats) traveling to America to take on all comers, culminating in the finals match against the U.S. Team.
  • G Gundam is basically summed up with this trope, plus with earth as the battlefield and most of the population in space, the winner would literally be the strongest, and only, person on Earth. In fact the Gundam Fight was created to provide a (comparatively) peaceful alternative to war. The country whose representative wins the fight gets to rule over all the colonies for the next four years.
  • The Oda Nobunaga Tournament in Yaiba includes participants from all over the world, and Yaiba even fought a European Knight. However it ended up with only Japanese Finalists.
  • Samurai Champloo gleefully lampoons this trope in the episode "Baseball Blues", in which a group of Japanese peasants play a baseball game against a crew of brutish Americans, and the fate of Edo Era Japan hangs in the balance over the outcome. Naturally this is all played out within Champloo's typically anachronistic, exaggerated idiom. The most patriotic of the Japanese players are picked off in comical ways, while only Mugen (A thug with no patriotic fervour whatsoever) saves the country single handedly.
  • The team of foreigners in The Prince of Tennis (the ones who show up at Nationals, not the team from the Junior Senbatsu arc of the anime). Their playstyle is extremely violent, and they openly ridicule the Japanese team they play against, and Japanese tennis in general. Of course, the Japanese team was losing on purpose, and they win by a large margin once they begin playing seriously. Then they mock the foreigners' arrogance... in (equally broken) English.
  • The world tournament series of the anime Medabots contains a truly stunning amount of cultural clichés (to be fair Team Japan don't get off lightly either) but the worst by far were Team France, who all sported twirly moustaches, spoke in exaggerated French accents and crept around in black cloaks lying and cheating their way to victory. This was so blatant it might possibly be considered a parody of the trope.
    • Also incredibly stereotyped were the Canadians who sported at least four layers of snow gear and Medabots designed specifically for a snowy winter arena. They also unknowingly added "Eh?" to the end of sentences and used "aboot". And a blizzard was considered a "light dusting".
      • Though one could easily argue that would be the dub production company taking pot shots at themselves.
  • Naruto: A number of Shinobi Villages intentionally and explicitly set up their Chunin Exams as a “war in miniature” between those on good enough terms to participate. The point is essentially to advertise their new crop of young Shinobi, and by extension the rest of their village, to potential clients for their mercenary industry.

    Comic Books 
  • Iron Man's first encounter with Dirty Communist villain the Titanium Man was in the context of a televised battle on neutral territory agreed upon by the U.S. and the Soviet Union.
  • In an early Judge Dredd story, a war between Mega-City One and a Sov-controlled East-Meg One is fought by fielding small four-man teams from each Mega-City against one another in an Olympics-style the death.

    Fan Works 
  • Run At The Cup gives us an intercity version. In this Alternate Universe, Zaun and Piltover's rivalry isn't quite as bad as in canon, but Zaun still resents Piltover (for entirely justified reasons). The series of defeats that the Zaun Sumprats deliver to the Piltover Lone Stars are extremely cathartic for Zaunites. By the end of the fic, the entire city of Zaun has caught hockey fever.


  • Polish crime writer Joanna Chmielewska in her short story idea proposed the ultimate solution of Cold War: a boxing match between the Soviet Secretary and the President of US. The Americans, of course, immediately impeached their president and elected a professional boxer, while the Soviet leader had to undergo Training from Hell. The result was left to reader's imagination.
  • A short story by Bernard Werber takes this trope and combines it with Blood Sport. In the future, all international situations are resolved by televised soccer matches where anything goes (up to and including killing players), turning the stadium into a multi-biome obstacle course, allowing the use of jetpacks, radar and mixed-gender teams... The only rule remaining is that you can't touch the ball with your hands. The name of the story? Bread and Circuses.
  • The second Red Dwarf novel, Better Than Life has this as part of the backstory for the GELFs. When humanity becomes too good at their favourite pastime (War), scientists shift their focus onto sport (Described as the new war), firstly through chemical enhancements, then through genetically engineering purpose-built athletes for different sports. Of course, limits are put in place after the Scottish football team fields a goalie in The World Cup who was nothing more than a massive oblong of flesh that is coincidentally the same dimensions as the goal.
  • Played for laughs in Alien Night on Union Station when the human characters realize that several alien cultures have taken the Serious Business of a hot new virtual reality MMORPG (something like Elite Dangerous on steroids) to the point where they think the Earth government is trying to use the game as a way to get around the Stryx ban on interstellar warfare. This is partly because EarthCent Ambassador Kelly Frank-McAllister is the stepmother of one of the top human guild leaders. (They aren't, it really is just a video game to the humans and Kelly is astounded when she realizes the problem.)
  • George MacDonald Fraser writes about a general knowledge quiz where his Scottish regiment played their English rivals. The fans got as intense as any at a Scotland-England football match, and Fraser realised that any sort of contest between Scotland and England, even something as sedate as a knitting bee or a chess game, would inevitably play like a replay of Bannockburn or Culloden.

    Live Action TV 
  • Part of the plot for the latest revamp of I Spy, where American Heavyweight champion boxer Kelly Robinson decides to take on "European Champion" Cedric Mills, who's generically Eastern European.
  • On Head of the Class when the Headsters took on a Soviet team in a trivia quiz an academic meet, both when the Soviets came to the US and later when the Class went to Moscow.
    Dr. Samuels: After today, the Red Menace will have red faces.
    Mr. Moore: Why don't we just nuke 'em and forget it?
  • The academic meet aspect also appears in an episode of Small Wonder, with the robotic Vicki representing her school in a meet against a smart Russian boy, who turns out to be a robot as well.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • In pro wrestling, the Foreign Wrestling Heel is a stock type of heel.
  • Canada-USA-Mexico hostilities are a calling card of Monterrey based LLF. It started because many luchadoras were discouraged or blocked from working for LLF when it began due to more established area promoters being hostile to it, so LLF ended up contacting groups north of the border such as Special Events and Glory to fill its locker room.
  • Ayako Hamada is Mexican, but since she's the daughter of a legendary Japanese wrestler, the LLF card read Mexico vs Japon when she brought Emi Tojo from Jd' to serve as her partner against Polly Star and Princesa Sugey.
  • Irish Whip Wrestling amusingly had a match in 2006 featuring the Scottish Drew Galloway fighting the Irish Sheamus O'Shaunessy inside the Verona Football Club wearing blue while Sheamus was wearing green. Yes, it was mostly coincidental, but sometimes you can't stop a trope from coming into play.
  • In the World Wrestling League's lead up to crown its first champion of the Americas, this ended up being the case between Phenomenal BJ (Puerto Rico), Joe Bravo (Dominican Republic) and Laredo Kid (Mexico). Each even got to be the hometown face for a while, since the promotion ran shows in all three areas.

  • Chess is essentially about one or more Cold War proxy showdowns, with the first act always featuring a highly publicized chess match between an American chess player and a Russian chess player. The political undertones are emphasized in the Diplomats' Chorus ("It's the U.S. versus U.S.S.R."). Predictably, the contest is manipulated behind the scenes.
Walter Decoursy: It really doesn't matter who comes out on top.
Alexander Molokov: Who gets the chop.
Both: No one's way of life is threatened by a flop... But we're gonna smash their bastard!


    Western Animation 
  • Parodied on The Simpsons in the form of a hyperbolic advertisement for an upcoming football game;
    Announcer: This will prove once and for all which is the greatest country in the world: Mexico, or Portugal?

    Real Life 
  • In general, whenever an international sports game occurs you'll see plenty of nationalistic language and references to military conflicts in the trash talk on social media.
    • For example, when Morocco beat Spain and Portugal in the 2022 FIFA World Cup, fans celebrated by calling it a repeat of Al-Andalus. When Morocco lost to France in the semi-finals, French fans had the last laugh by referencing the Battle of Tours.
  • Football is notorious for rioting and fights breaking out at games. Disputed matches between countries where both the sport is extremely popular and national feelings run high have led to hundreds of deaths, especially in Latin America.
    • Actually, in 1969 the start of a real WAR occurred during riots following a heated game of football.
    • Though not quite at the level of the above, the Old Firm rivalry between Glasgow's two biggest clubs, Celtic and Rangers, sadly operates much this way with respect to Northern Ireland, seeing that the two parties are, respectively, traditionally supported by Catholics and Protestants. In fact, Old Firm match-days are nearly as volatile in Northern Ireland as in Glasgow itself, with arrests spiking several-fold during those days.
  • The buildup and aftermath of the Nika riots of Constantinople make this Older Than Print, though in this particular case it was more akin to a showdown of political parties.
  • This happened in real life with Super Smash Bros. at a huge tournament called Genesis, where the best North American player (and up until that point generally considered best player in the world) came one hit away from losing the grand finals to Europe's best player. Watching the matches, it comes down to a lot of cheering on both sides for their respective player/country.
  • The so-called "Miracle on Ice", both in Real Life and the movie they made about it.
  • The European Championship in 1964, when the final match was Soviet Union vs. Spain.
  • The Olympic Games. Especially in 1936 by Nazi Germany, but the overtones of national dick-measuring never really went away afterwards.
    • Most games between 1948 and 1992 were basically the Cold War being really fought - to the point both Moscow '80 and Los Angeles '84 had the opposing parties boycotting the games.
      • On top of that, there were other diplomatic incidents at the Olympics not directly linked to the Cold War - most notably the Munich Massacre in the 1972 Games, and the African boycott of 1976.
  • The infamous "Blood in the Water" match between Hungary and the USSR in water polo. Right on the heels of a Soviet invasion to put down a rebellion, the game degenerated into one of the most violent and emotional sporting events of the time.
  • Any major gaming tournament, such as Evolution 2K. It's most obvious in 2D FightingGames, where the mindset can usually be broken down to "Daigo Umehara (Japan) vs Justin Wong (USA)".
  • Bobby Fischer vs. Boris Spassky in Iceland for the world chess championship in 1972. Pity Bobby was insane and Spassky was not a serious Communist Party member.
  • The second boxing match between American Joe Louis and German Max Schmeling was very much one of these. The bout happened just a little over a year before the start of WWII, and years earlier Schmeling had been a huge propaganda hero in Germany both for briefly holding the world heavyweight title and defeating Louis in a major upset during their first bout. With the coming conflict seemingly inevitable, the eyes of the world were on the bout, which was viewed as a showdown between America and Nazi Germany. (Despite the fact that Schmeling himself was very much not a Nazi, as he never joined the Nazi party, and lost favor with Hitler for shielding Jewish children from the Nazi regime and refusing to end his business partnership with his Jewish manager.) The result was a brutal Curb-Stomp Battle where Louis crushed Schmeling in a single round. The bout was seen as a vindication for America and a major blow to Hitler's "master race", as Louis was black.
  • The Space Race - relatively non-violent, and used repurposed military technology. Accusations of cheating were surprisingly few. Culminated in the Apollo-Soyuz joint flight.
    • That's not to say cheating didn't happen. The original first few Soviet space flights are technically invalidated because the pilot parachuted out of his craft once in atmosphere (aviation records must require the pilot to be in the craft in order to qualify) and the first life form in space never made it back (not because of design flaw... it was never intended to make a return trip).
  • Van Cliburn was given a ticker-tape parade through New York after winning a piano competition in Moscow in 1958, the only time such an honor has been given to a classical musician.
  • The British media treats all competitions between England and either Germany or Argentina as this. They still won't let Germany forget that they beat them in the World Cup final in 1966. For the most part, Germans and Argentines tend to ignore it.
  • Older Than Feudalism: The Horatii (Rome) vs. the Curatii (Alba Longa). Since this particular bit of history was written down by a Roman (Livius), you can guess who wins.