About the Author: Maura M. Pally serves as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Professional and Cultural Exchanges in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
The international excitement surrounding the World Cup is evidence of the worldwide passion for soccer, and of the important role it plays in the cultures of many different countries. Soccer also plays an important role in U.S. sports diplomacy and outreach. The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs' SportsUnited office creates programs around soccer and other sports to give foreign participants exposure to American life and culture, as well as connect them with U.S. sports professionals. SportsUnited programs help kids ages 7-17 discover how success in athletics can translate into the development of life skills and achievement in the classroom. These initiatives also give Americans the opportunity to learn about foreign cultures and about the challenges young people from other countries face today.
This June, the SportsUnited office brought twelve teenage girl soccer players and two coaches from Venezuela to the United States for a 10-day Sports Visitor program. This program coincided with the 38th anniversary of the passage of Title IX, landmark legislation that bans discrimination on the basis of gender, which had a huge impact on American education, collegiate and professional sports, and society. The girls participated in a soccer clinic with the coach of the Washington Freedom, the local Women's Professional Soccer team, and met soccer star Abby Wambach. They also participated in several fun team-building activities, played with American high school athletes, and attended a “watch party” at RFK Stadium to see the U.S. Men's National Team play Algeria and advance to the second round of the World Cup.
In addition to bringing young athletes to the United States on Sports Visitor programs, SportsUnited also sends American athletes overseas to conduct clinics, visit schools, and speak to youth. Partnering with U.S. Soccer, this month SportsUnited sent World Cup Champion and two-time Olympic Gold Medal winner Cindy Parlow and former Major League Soccer assistant coach Dr. John Cone to Azerbaijan as Sports Envoys. Cindy and John led clinics for hundreds of children, including many who live in Internally Displaced Persons camps, and held a clinic specifically for coaches to ensure the long-lasting impact of their work.
In addition to soccer, SportsUnited this year has created programs for basketball, baseball, volleyball, swimming, figure skating, and snowboarding. Like the World Cup, SportsUnited programs bring people together across the divisions of region, race and religion, uniting them through a shared passion for sports. The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs joins our many participants and alumni around the world in celebrating our mutual respect for each other's culture, as we watch and cheer on our favorites in the World Cup. GOAL!!!