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The U.S. embassy and consulates in Mexico leverage sports diplomacy to promote mutual bilateral goals

Weights training in a wheelchair
Copyrights: U.S. Department of State, Sports Diplomacy Division

The U.S. embassy and consulates in Mexico leverage sports diplomacy to promote mutual bilateral goals

The second in a six part series: how a partnership between the U.S. Department of State's Sports Diplomacy office and the U.S. Mission in Mexico has been critical for promoting mutual security, prosperity and understanding.

By Alex Barron and the Public Affairs Section of U.S. Embassy Mexico City

The U.S. Mission in Mexico has leveraged sports diplomacy to advance goals shared by the United States and Mexico. Mexican public opinion of the U.S. government (USG) has recently been mixed on bilateral issues such as trade and migration. In this environment, sports diplomacy has been critical for promoting mutual security, prosperity, and understanding.

The U.S. Mission in Mexico has partnered with the Sports Diplomacy Division of the Department of State’s Educational and Cultural Affairs Bureau (ECA) on various exchange programs, yielding remarkable results. For example, the number of Mexican participants and alumni of USG sponsored sports diplomacy programs has more than tripled from 2017 to 2020.

Our programming recognizing the 30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1989 (ADA) focuses on adaptive sports and social inclusion for at-risk groups. Unfortunately for many sports organizations working towards the inclusion of people with disabilities, COVID-19 is a threat to their very existence. This makes it even more important to continue supporting local partners. Leveraging the existing networks of USG alumni is also key to our success as they are well-positioned to adjust their program ideas and goals based on local circumstances.

The power of people-to-people exchanges

Daniel Gomez de la Vega had a motocross accident in 2011 and suffered a spinal cord injury that would never allow him to walk again. He turned his frustration into motivation to jumpstart what he calls “my second life.” He returned immediately to sports, becoming a para-triathlete, and para-surfer. As he adjusted to his new life, he realized that many others with disabilities in Mexico lived in more dire situations than him. They often lacked community support and financial resources, and they faced indifference and outright discrimination.

By the time the U.S. Embassy successfully nominated Daniel for the 2019 Global Sports Mentoring Program (GSMP), he was already a rising star athlete and motivational speaker, and an advocate for equality and justice for people with disabilities in Mexico. He had started a non-profit organization to offer surfing lessons to boys and girls with disabilities in his home state of Guerrero, one of the poorest states in the country.

The people he met and knowledge he gained during his exchange program in the United States were crucial for Daniel’s NGO to expand adaptive surfing nationwide back home. The relationships he has cultivated with his U.S. counterparts have helped his organization to become more efficient and sustainable.

Sports visitor programs expand U.S. Embassy’s network of key local players

In 2019, sixteen Mexican Paralympic coaches and administrators traveled to Colorado Springs, CO and Birmingham, AL, to participate in an ECA-sponsored Sports Visitors program, aiming to enhance Mexico’s Paralympic movement. Most participants decided to collaborate on a large project, creating an organization that promotes athletic activities for people with disabilities, conducts research on the subject, and champions inclusion.

They have recently implemented training to prepare coaches and administrators in para-taekwondo and para-fencing, with support from Ambassador Christopher Landau and his son Nat Landau, an accomplished fencer. This success triggered the Mexican Paralympic Committee and the Mexican Fencing Federation to create an organized, nationwide para-fencing program. While COVID-19 has brought these programs to a halt, the Embassy will continue supporting programs that increase access to sports for people with disabilities, once it is safe for everyone to do so again.

Local conditions shape U.S. mission-funded programs

The U.S. Embassy in Mexico has developed and funded many sports diplomacy programs, customized to local challenges and needs. In the field of sports for people with disabilities, training and certification for coaches and administrators have yielded tangible results.

For example, in collaboration with Special Olympics Mexico in 2019, coaches and administrators from over 20 Mexican states were trained and certified on how to manage and operate a unified triathlon program. Several participants in that program have already started unified triathlon programs within their respective communities, with the long term goal of having athletics programs nationwide, and fielding teams for Special Olympics championships.

The Embassy has also collaborated with popular U.S. sports organizations to help raise awareness about equal access to sports. For example, in 2017, it partnered with the Phoenix Suns and the NBA local office to promote wheelchair basketball.

The impact of sports diplomacy in U.S.-Mexico relations

Thanks to the U.S. Mission’s sports diplomacy initiatives, the USG has become a leading voice in the Mexican sports industry. Traditional democratic values of human rights and social inclusion have permeated the discussions among sports professionals and lawmakers in Mexico, and the local network of alumni and other allies amplifies the reach and impact of U.S. sports diplomacy efforts.

Despite these gains, we continue to fight the challenges that remain due to social, cultural, and economic realities. Foremost of these challenges is a lack of legal protections and equal access for Mexican citizens with disabilities, similar to what the ADA offers American citizens. To counter this, the U.S. Embassy plans to sponsor the trip of a U.S. expert to Mexico to engage with various audiences on ADA and adaptive sports.

Further strengthening of sports diplomacy initiatives in Mexico, both ECA exchanges and locally funded programs with alumni and other key stakeholders, will be paramount in our efforts to address these ongoing challenges. Doing so will be all the more important in these uncertain times, affecting those who are most vulnerable.

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Alex Barron and the Public Affairs Section of U.S. Embassy Mexico City

Published

Wednesday, May 27, 2020 - 14:12