Building people-to-people relationships through sports and culture, 20 teenaged basketball players and four coaches from across the United States traveled to Moscow and St. Petersburg July 7-19 under the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission (BPC). From training with David Blatt, head coach of the Russian National Mens Basketball team to sharing jokes with Russian Minister of Sport, Tourism, and Youth Policy Vitaly Mutko, these American athletes -- and sports diplomats -- experienced Russia through the prism of basketball and culture.
They even had the opportunity to catch up with Russian athletes who had been on a similar exchange in the United States at a reception hosted by U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Beyrle. During the BPC's inaugural sports exchange in May 2010, young Russian basketball players visited the Washington, D.C. area, where they played basketball with President Obama.
They played basketball with the Russian National Under-16 team as well as with local clubs in both Moscow and St. Petersburg. In addition, they spent five days at the Trinta basketball camp training with some of the top coaches and youth basketball players in the country.
Basketball was a key element of the exchange, but so was the opportunity to experience Russian culture. The youth explored iconic Red Square, took a boat ride on the Moscow River, visited local churches and monasteries, and perused the treasures of the Hermitage and the luxurious Peterhof estate, filling their stomachs with borsch, blini, and pelmeni along the way.
Most importantly, the young athletes' shared love of the sport that brought them together with their Russian peers helped bridge language barriers and created lasting.
What is clear is that each and every one of these young sports ambassadors will have a better understanding of the richness of Russian culture and the camaraderie of its people. As they left, many were already talking about coming back to Russia in the future, sending Facebook messages to their new Russian friends.
This exchange was the fifth of its kind conducted under the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission (BPC)'s Education, Culture, Sports, and Media Working Group. Under the leadership of Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitri Medvedev, and coordinated by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, the BPC is dedicated to identifying areas of cooperation and joint projects that strengthen strategic stability, promote international security, and facilitate connections between the Russian and American people.