From Diamond Diplomacy to the Gold Standard

Posted by Morgan Obrien
March 7, 2014
Sports Envoy Ken Griffey, Jr. Holds a Sports Clinic for Little League Softball and Baseball Players in Mexico City, Mexico

While successful people-to-people diplomacy always requires hard work and creativity, a little star power never hurts.  So when recently-retired Major League Baseball great Ken Griffey, Jr. joined 2004 Olympic softball gold medalist Natasha Watley to serve as State Department sports envoys for “Diamond Diplomacy” activities in Mexico City from February 28 to March 4, the program was destined to sparkle.

The envoys hit the ball out of the park as they conducted four days of clinics involving hundreds of young softball and baseball players, talks with students, a Google+ Hangout with participants throughout the Americas, and meetings with Mexican government leaders and sports officials -- activities all designed to emphasize the importance of education, teamwork, and respect for diversity.   

The program began on February 28, just in time for the envoys to partner with the U.S. Mission in Mexico City to commemorate Black History Month and highlight how sports break down barriers.  Griffey, Jr. spoke about his hero, Jackie Robinson, who became the first African American major league baseball player in 1947.  As the program extended into March, the envoys celebrated Women’s History Month by reaching out to hundreds of young female participants with messages of empowerment -- both on the field and in the classroom.

The Mexico City program marked another success in what has already been an action-packed year for the State Department’s sports diplomacy initiatives.  Since January, the Department has dispatched sports envoys to engage underserved youth and their coaches in Bangladesh, Russia, Morocco, and Spain, received sports visitors representing these communities from Mongolia, Argentina, Turkey, Lebanon, Kyrgyzstan, South Korea, and Nigeria, and completed sports grant programs which fostered connections between non-elite American athletes and their counterparts in China, Mexico and Belize. Sports transcend language, economic and social barriers; build a strong foundation of understanding between people of different cultures; and forge life-long relationships. 

This year’s programming success continues more than a decade of effective State Department sports exchanges.  The recent release of the Study of ECA’s SportsUnited Programs report showcases many of the outcomes of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ sports diplomacy programs. The evaluation investigated outcomes from participants of sports programs that took place from 2002 to 2009 -- a retrospective approach designed to capture lasting effects manifested several years after the exchange.  Highlights of the evaluation report include:

  • 92 percent of respondents reported an improved view of Americans. 
  • 87 percent of respondents shared their experience from the exchange with others back home.
  • 81 percent of respondents rated their knowledge of free speech and freedom of the press as moderate or extensive after the program.
  • 69 percent of the coaches and program administrators surveyed indicated they organized new activities or assumed a leadership role in their community.

Visit the Evaluation Division webpage to learn more about the evaluation and download the full report.

The gold standard of global sports diplomacy continues through 2014, as State Department sports programming continues to expand the parameters of diplomacy, reaching underserved populations such as women, youth, and persons with disabilities throughout the world,  while empowering them to become active members of their communities and stewards of democratic ideals.

About the Author: Morgan O'Brien serves as a Cultural Affairs Officer in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs' (ECA) SportsUnited Office.

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