Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with 14 basketball coaches from India as they kicked off their Basketball Sports Visitor Program, a program of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs' (ECA) SportsUnited Division. These visitors, who coach predominately 8-16 year olds, are in the United States for 11 days to take part in basketball workshops with American athletes, participate in a Special Olympics clinic, and engage in activities focused on team building and youth development. The program also includes discussions on conflict resolution, sports fitness, and sports psychology. The group spent five days in Washington, D.C., where they had a "behind the scenes" tour of the Capitol, traveled to Mount St. Mary's University to observe a college basketball practice, and participated in a wheelchair basketball session. They are now in Orlando, Florida to attend coaching clinics and leadership sessions focused on the NBA All Star Weekend. They will also visit an American school and attend a session with the Boys and Girls Club of Orlando. As was described by The Hindu newspaper, this program shows that "the two nations (India and the United States) continue to score slam-dunks in terms of bilateral sport diplomacy."
In my conversation with the coaches, I explained that ECA bridges cultures and promotes understanding between the United States and other countries through a diverse range of exchange programs. Exchanges with youth, emerging leaders, academics, athletes, and the arts community, send Americans abroad and bring participants to the United States. International participants meet directly with Americans and experience American culture and values first-hand. I reminded our visiting group of coaches that it is equally important for them to share their background and culture with the Americans they meet. It is this mutual sharing of cultures, ideas, and practices that leads to a better understanding of our counterparts around the world.
Sports surmount cultural and language differences and unite people in the love of a good game. Through mutual appreciation and sportsmanship enduring friendships are built. We are thrilled to host this special group from India, visitors that have in only a few days created people-to-people relationships through sports.
The SportsUnited Division brings youth athletes and coaches to the United States as well as sends sports envoys to countries abroad. This is the second basketball exchange for India. Last year as Sports Envoys, NBA Hall of Famer George "The Iceman" Gervin and WNBA's Katie Smith traveled to Mumbai and New Delhi.