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.