Twenty-two young Russian basketball players are the first to participate in a new sports exchange between the United States and Russia as a result of the efforts of the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission. The Commission was established last year to improve communication and cooperation between the governments of Russia and the United States. The U.S. Department of State's SportsUnited Office brought the Russian basketball players to Washington, DC May 15-29 on a "Sports Visitor" program to take part in basketball skills clinics at various levels, including one taught jointly by the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) and by the National Basketball Association (NBA). The group has also engaged with their American counterparts at local high schools and played basketball games with the Boys and Girls Club of America and Amateur Athletic Union teams.
Members of the Russian delegation have been blogging about their trip, and I encourage you to read their blogs, as they describe their impressions of the United States and some of their amazing experiences, such as shooting hoops with President Obama and meeting U.S. Congressman Delahunt, running drills with professional basketball players, eating dinner at the home of Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy Judith McHale, and even serendipitously running into professional basketball player Shaquille O'Neal on the streets of Georgetown.
SportsUnited is an international sports programming initiative designed to help start a dialogue at the grassroots level with non-elite male and female athletes ages 7-17. The programs help youth discover how success in athletics can be translated into the development of life skills and achievement in the classroom. SportsUnited programs, like all of the exchange initiatives organized by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, are designed to establish links between individuals in the United States and abroad, and to increase mutual understanding. Visitors from abroad have the opportunity to experience American life and culture, while Americans learn about foreign cultures and the challenges young people from overseas face today.