You are here

The US Department of State takes the field with sports diplomacy

The US Department of State takes the field with sports diplomacy

Nearly one billion people tuned in to watch matches during the 2014 World Cup. This number brings to light the power of sports. While the international community’s enthusiasm for sports peaks during mega-events, the motivation to engage in sports is constant.

Every day of every year, SportsUnited - the US Department of State’s sports diplomacy division - taps into the global shared passion of sports. The State Department uses the hands-on experiences of sports to transcend cultural hurdles between people with different backgrounds.

From the ancient Olympic Games to the era of ping pong diplomacy, sports have opened channels of communication in difficult climates. Recognising this, the State Department established SportsUnited to advance public diplomacy efforts.

Since 2002, sports diplomacy exchange programmes have expanded to reach socioeconomically disadvantaged youth and marginalised groups, including women and individuals with disabilities. Through people-to-people sports exchanges, the State Department reaches out at the grassroots level to connect with people in every region of the world.

While the global spotlight focuses on triumphs at the World Cup and Olympics, the State Department has its own diplomatic victories by “leveling the playing field” and promoting respect for diversity.

SportsUnited’s partnerships with leagues, federations and non-profit organisations are vital in ensuring that sports programmes impact communities in meaningful ways. The State Department has developed core sports diplomacy programmes: Sports Envoys, Sports Visitors, Sports Grants, and the Empowering Women and Girls through Sports Initiative.

Envoys: In cooperation with US Missions and American leagues and federations, the State Department dispatches prominent athletes to serve as role models on envoy programmes overseas. These star envoys include Ken Griffey Jr. and Jackie-Joyner Kersee, amongst an all-star roster of American sports ambassadors. Sports Envoys connect with key audiences in places where traditional diplomacy proves challenging.

Visitors: Young athletes and coaches nominated by US embassies come to the United States to experience American society and sport culture during two-week exchanges. Programmes include sessions on disability sports, HIV/AIDS prevention and nutrition, along with technical training. The programme builds connections between foreign visitors and Americans through a mutually enriching experience.

Grants: The State Department coordinates with US-based nonprofits on two-way exchanges designed to enhance sports infrastructure around the world. Programmes allow the department to promote the diversified capabilities of its partners while reaching larger target audiences.

Empowering women and girls: Building on the State Department’s commitment to gender equality, this initiative inspires girls’ increased involvement in sports so that they can experience its many benefits and learn about Title IX. For the flagship Global Sports Mentoring Programme, each participant develops a strategic plan for using sports as a means to create new opportunities for women. By placing these plans into motion at home, these women create a ripple effect - with an expanding footprint of positive social change globally.

The State Department also garners the enthusiasm of mega sporting events, including the World Cup and Olympics and Paralympics to spread messages of diplomacy. The versatility and inclusivity of SportsUnited’s programmes contribute uniquely to the State Department’s efforts to enhance economic prosperity and security.

This is an edited version of a longer article:


Article type



Trina Bolton


Wednesday, February 18, 2015 - 07:59