Sports Diplomacy – The Sports Visitor Program

The Sports Visitor Program described on its website as “sports- themed programs” that offer the opportunity to interact with Americans and experience American culture and values. U.S. Missions around the globe select non-elite athletes and coaches to attend the two weeks program, which includes sessions on: “nutrition, strength and conditioning, gender equity in sport, sport and disability and team building.” Also there is emphasis on the visitors’ development of personal action plans for when they return home.

Past events of the programs included Mobility International USA (MIUSA) collaborating with the Pyunic Armenian Association for the Disabled and the Agate Center for Women with Special Needs in Armenia in a two-way exchange program. And Sports United hosting a Sports Visitor soccer program for coaches from Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen.

Although trying to remain apolitical, sport has always been a part of international relations, for better (US-China Ping-Pong diplomacy), or for worse (the Honduras-El Salvador Football War). Sport diplomacy as a whole, and this specific program do have merits, as sport is a common language everywhere. It may not be food and medical care but sport can act as a helpful public diplomacy tool.

The U.S. is a leading force in almost all of sports and some American athletes are global icons. The U.S. also has a solid recreational sport culture and infrastructure, which most country could only wish for. That is why, brining non-elite athletes to the states and engaging with them at their countries utilizes the U.S. position as a sports role model, and shows a positive side of the country. Plus, a positive experience for this athletes mean they will have something positive to say about the U.S. back home. And if one of these non-elites will become great, and share the positive experience then that is just gravy for U.S. public diplomacy, as it earned a public figure in favor of the U.S.

With that being said, it is hard to see how young men and women from the Middle East, South America and Africa forget about U.S. actions or non-actions, all thanks to a game of soccer. How can a coach from Yemen or Athlete from Venezuela see this trip to the U.S. for nothing more than a trip when U.S. actions affect their family and country?

A lot can be said against the goal of exposing the visitor to U.S. culture. Does that mean that U.S. culture is the right one? Does it mean the people over at the State Department would want to see U.S. culture spreading through sports? Some could say this is just another way for the U.S to try and Americanize the world. Another point is the reference to American values, will a program like this lead change in gender equality in the Middle East? Probably not, and that is without even pointing the irony of talking nutrition pointers from one of the most obis countries in the world.

The use of sports diplomacy by the U.S. could lead to positive results, but exchange programs are very limited in scope, hopefully the U.S. will gain a few more “ambassadors” around the world, which is something that is not to be disregarded.

Daniel

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6 thoughts on “Sports Diplomacy – The Sports Visitor Program

  1. Cat Marte says:

    Sport diplomacy huh? I think that you make a lot of very interesting points but one thing I find is common in all of these programs is the length of time that they run for. You mentioned this particular program only runs for two weeks and I just can’t help but think that America is handing out all inclusive vacation packages as a means of public diplomacy. As you said, these non-athletes, who are regular citizens of, say Africa, already have a mindset of how they perceive America, so how much can two weeks of “sports camp” really change? I might argue that the perception of America could change if these programs were a bit longer, say 3-6months, but of course that would mean a higher investment. At any rate, it seems sports diplomacy can work, but it might not have a sustainable result.

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  2. Cat Marte says:

    I don’t think sports diplomacy is a bad idea, considering all of the things you have pointed out, such as, America’s merits and success in sports. I also agree that it is a neutral way to get other countries involved without the strains of political gain. And yet, I find it really frustrating that many public diplomacy efforts are being carried out as if they were the drive thru at McDonald’s. What I mean by this is that 2 weeks is hardly enough time to change anybody’s perception, especially if they have had a certain mindset about a given country for their entire lives.As you said, it might not work at all, and I think that given the short amount of time that each participant actually gets to spend in America, it seems more like an all paid vacation than a learning experience.

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  3. Allan Roberts says:

    I found your Blog about Sports Diplomacy very interesting, specifically with The Sports Visitor Program and non-elites.

    While I can understand your concerns in the limitations of a 2-week program as a form of diplomacy, I still feel competition through athletics as whole as being one of the most effective forms of diplomacy between states, nations, or opposing sides.

    One sport to consider is Basketball. Though the sport was formally created in the USA, it has spread throughout the world and become a form of national pride, regardless of US-influence. Tal Brody, though American, made the sport extremely popular in Israel, making such teams as Maccabi Tel Aviv a national treasure. Tel Aviv is amongst many teams that will play in such popular venues as Madison Square Garden against the Knicks. The popularity of these exhibition games gives popular exposure to Israel outside of the constant news of Palestinian tensions and disputes. Even if such “diplomacy” lasts less than 3 hours.

    Of course, a basketball game won’t erase certain images or opinions people will have of a country, but it’s much preferable to militant aggression between sides. While a common criticism is the “Americanization” of trends (such as sports), I think the real issue is “commercialization” of sport. Much like in Brazil and this year’s World Cup, many persons were displaced from favelas because the government wanted a cleaner “look” around stadiums for visiting foreigners. One must question what the Brazilian Government has done with the exuberant amounts of the money made. Will it go back to fixing the favela slums? Fixing Brazil’s infrastructure? Benefit only elites? These questions and issues effect all countries; Brazil, USA, and the world entire.

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  4. Allan Roberts says:

    While I can understand your concerns in the limitations of a 2-week sports diplomacy program, I still feel competition as being one of the most effective forms of diplomacy between states, nations, or opposing sides.

    One sport to consider is Basketball. Though the sport was formally created in the USA, it has spread throughout the world and become a form of national pride, regardless of US-influence. Macaabi Tel Aviv is amongst many teams that will play in such popular venues as Madison Square Garden against the Knicks. Exhibition games give popular exposure to Israel outside of the constant news of Palestinian tensions and disputes, within a 3-hour ball game.

    Of course, a basketball game won’t erase certain images or opinions people will have of a country, but it’s much preferable to militant aggression between sides. I think the real issue is “commercialization” of sport. Much like in Brazil and this year’s World Cup, many persons were displaced from favelas because the government wanted a cleaner “look” around stadiums for visiting foreigners. One must question what the Brazilian Government has done with the exuberant amounts of the money made. Will it go back to fixing the favela slums? Fixing Brazil’s infrastructure? Benefit only elites? These questions and issues affect all countries; Brazil, USA, and the world entire.

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  5. I found the idea that the US should use Sports Diplomacy more very interesting. I believe that the US government should not be involved in sports. I think that when you tie relations and policy to sports it loses it neutrality and politicizes what once countries could use to relate.

    Politicizing sports is a good way to ruin the camaraderie that evolves from the neutral and fair nature. If athletes or sports institutions want to themselves help as NGO’s I think that that is fine but for the government to step in and use this unadulterated natural form of diplomacy to try and push relations or policy is not right.

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  6. You bring up an interesting topic, Daniel. I agree with Cat’s comment about the length of time. How much can you really engage in cross cultural interaction in just two weeks? Further, I think the structure of the program is important to consider. Like we learned in Dr. Chin’s class last week during the arts diplomacy presentation, when programs are too structured, participants don’t have to solve problems together, a great intercultural learning tool. Too much structure takes away the problem solving and improvisational cultural moments that lead to better understanding of the other. If the athletes and simply shuttled from airport, hotel, and sports facility, all meals provided, they aren’t really engaging with the local culture.

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