Sports Diplomacy

The U.S. Department of State has a storied history of collaborating with U.S. athletes to promote friendship and engage with foreign officials, athletes, and public audiences. These early sports diplomacy efforts included baseball’s trailblazer Jackie Robinson, two-time Olympic champion decathlete Bob Mathias and USA Track & Field legends Jesse Owens and Mal Whitfield in the 1950’s, and American basketball stars, like Bill Russell and the Harlem Globetrotters touring Eastern Bloc in the 1960’s. Ping pong diplomacy, perhaps the most well known U.S. sports diplomacy effort, led to the establishment of official diplomatic ties with the People’s Republic of China in the early 1970’s.

In 2002, the U.S. Department of State institutionalized these efforts by establishing the Sports Diplomacy Division — formerly SportsUnited — as a means of reaching out to youth around the world through sport.

Today, through the four program pillars outlined below, the Sports Diplomacy Division fulfills the mandate outlined in the Fulbright-Hays Act – to promote mutual understanding through shared educational and cultural interests for the promotion of friendly relations between the United States and other countries.

Sports Visitor Program

The Sports Visitor Program brings youth athletes, coaches, and administrators from around the world to the United States for a short-term (approximately two-week) sports-based exchange. During the program, participants engage with American peers and sports practitioners, participate in clinics and sessions on leadership, team building, and conflict resolution as well as inclusion and equity in sports. Sports Visitor programs show young people how success in athletics can translate into achievements in the classroom and in life. They also provide Americans an opportunity to interact firsthand with people from every region of the world. Learn more

Sports Envoy Program

The Sports Envoy Program is comprised of elite American athletes, coaches, and educators who travel abroad on short-term (7-10 day) sports exchanges. Sports Envoy programs are designed to reach underserved communities, inspiring youth and coaches alike, with stories of resilience, teamwork, and education. Sports Envoys lead sports clinics, speak at universities, and meet with senior level officials to discuss the role of sport in improving individual lives and transforming societies. Learn more

International Sports Programming Initiative

The International Sports Programming Initiative (ISPI) is an annual sports grant competition for U.S.-based nonprofits to administer two-way exchanges that engage underserved youth, coaches, and sports administrators. Through sports, ISPI supports youth around the world to develop important leadership skills, achieve academic success, and promote tolerance and respect for others. The programs highlight the theme of Sport for Social Change and advance foreign policy goals while reaching key audiences, including at-risk youth, women, girls, minorities, persons with disabilities, and non-English speakers. Learn more

Global Sports Mentoring Program

The Global Sports Mentoring Program (GSMP) is a professional development opportunity for foreign-born leaders (ages 25-45) to travel to the United States for a five-week mentorship experience with American executives and decision-makers. The GSMP has two thematic areas: Empowering Women and Girls through Sports and Sport for Community, a co-ed program focused on disability rights and inclusion. The culmination of the GSMP are in-depth action plans, focused on systemic social and cultural change with increased access and opportunities for women, girls, and persons with disabilities. Learn more

Sports Diplomacy Implementation Cycle

ECA exchange programs engage influential young leaders around the world in various fields such as sports, for international cross-cultural programs, with designated funding and oversight from Congress.