When three-time heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali passed away last week, he left behind much more than his legendary performances in the ring. The man known as “The Greatest” is also well known for his work outside the ring, and he has left his mark on many important international initiatives, like sports diplomacy.
Through sports diplomacy, the State Department taps into the ability of sports to increase dialogue and cultural understanding between people around the world. Ali’s spirit has been captured in several recent State Department Sports Diplomacy boxing programs, which engage professional and youth athletes from abroad with experiences in the United States.
Earlier in 2016, a delegation of 12 Kazakhstani boxers and trainers, five men and seven women representing diverse regions of their home country, visited community boxing programs and the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Kentucky. The boxers participated in the Ali Center’s “Creating Our Future” curriculum, which teaches six core values — respect, confidence, conviction, dedication, spirituality and giving — characteristics Ali sought to champion in his own life. The Ali Center inspires leadership, teamwork, and communication skills, all assets that are critical to people-to-people relations. Because of this aspect, the Department provides exchange participants with opportunities to visit the center even when their program is not focused on boxing.
Our Empowering Women through Sports initiative has also been lifted by Ali’s legacy. Laila Ali, undefeated world-champion boxer and Muhammad Ali’s daughter, served as president of Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF), a longstanding mentor site to the espnW Global Sports Mentoring Program (GSMP). The GSMP gives emerging leaders in the sports sector from other countries the opportunity to build lasting relationships and partnerships through a month-long mentorship in the United States.
An alumna of GSMP from Kenya, Cynthia Coredo, leads an organization devoted to empowering young women through boxing, called Boxgirls. Boxgirls Kenya allows young women from disadvantaged areas to use boxing as a catalyst for positive social change in themselves and their communities.
Also under the Empowering Women through Sports initiative, the State Department hosted women from Tajikistan for a martial arts program focused on addressing Gender Based Violence (GBV). The young women participated in a Thai boxing program at the Beta Academy to learn both technical and mental tactics used in boxing. One alumna, Mavzuna Chorieva, went on to compete in women’s Olympic boxing as the first female boxer to represent Tajikistan.
The U.S. Department of State is mourning the loss of the global sports icon. And in his memory, we will continue to unite citizens around the world, as Ali did, through the power of sports.
About the Author: Rebeccah Barger serves in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs' (ECA) SportsUnited Office.
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