Sports diplomacy programs are in a league of their own when it comes to changing perspectives, knowledge sharing, and building relationships through exchange opportunities. Participation in sports teaches leadership, teamwork, and communication skills that help young people succeed in all areas of their lives. Sports diplomacy uses the universal passion for sports as a way to transcend linguistic and sociocultural differences and bring people together.
A recent evaluation of ECA’s sports diplomacy programs, covering the years 2002-2009, investigates the outcomes of the SportsUnited Division’s Sports Visitor, Sports Grants, and Sports Envoy programs. The study, commissioned by the Evaluation Division, incorporates international participant survey data and fieldwork including interviews with coaches, alumni, and embassy staff in China and South Africa. Some of the key findings show that survey respondents improved their view of Americans and increased their knowledge of the U.S. as well as ethnic diversity and free speech. Furthermore, 87% of respondents indicated that they have shared that knowledge and experience with their home communities.
All three of the programs covered in the study have influenced respondents through workshops, discussions, and physical activities that built new skills in sports while also enriching their cultural understanding. Coaches and administrators learned how sports can be effective in addressing problems faced by youth. Many of them reported returning to their home countries with that knowledge and initiating sports programs that engage underserved groups (e.g., girls or people with disabilities).
The study also revealed that many respondents maintain contact with Americans and people they meet in the program, thus establishing cross-cultural relationships. The reciprocal benefits of such exchanges in addition to an increased rate of foreign participation contribute to the program’s effectiveness and reach in over 100 countries.