By Adrianna Borja, Program Officer
I have been eager to work on a Sports Diplomacy Program since studying the importance of Sports Diplomacy in my master’s program. The United States Deportment of State gained its own Sports Diplomacy Department after 9/11, to reach out to young people in the Middle East through soccer. Since then, it has expanded to all regions and many sports, with a program of activities that primarily focus on people-to-people exchanges. The importance of Sports Diplomacy is to bring people, nations, and communities closer together through a shared love of physical pursuits.
In November, the San Diego Diplomacy Council had the opportunity to partner with the State Department, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), alongside our implementing partners, PH International, on a Sports for a Social Change, Sports Diplomacy program focusing on adaptive sports between the United States and Romania.
While the group was in town, they had the opportunity to meet with various organizations involved in the Adaptive Sports space, including the San Diego Adaptive Sports Foundation, formerly known as the Adaptive Sports and Recreation Association, where they shared challenges in empowering individuals with disabilities through affordable and inclusive sports experiences that nurture self-esteem, confidence, and independence at a young age.
The delegation also had a memorable session with Drew Andy Cohn (Many), a wheelchair Rugby Medalist and renowned figure in the film “Murder Ball,” delved into the challenges faced by each delegate in their respective organizations, with a particular focus on funding concerns for their adaptive programs back in Romania.
Noteworthy among our experiences was the SDSU Adaptive Athlete Showcase: Welcome to the C.R.E.E.D. The delegation experienced a VIP encounter, interacting personally with Lex Gillette, a distinguished 5-time Track and field Paralympian, and Jerome Avery, a 4-time Paralympic Guide Runner. Lex Gillette shared his inspirational journey as a blind athlete, triumphing over adversities.
Global Social Hour (GSH)
Also arranged, was a closing ceremony and a personalized Global Social Hour, free to our members, which was located at La Jolla Country Day (LJCDS), an academic partner of ours. The delegation, SDDC Board members, SDDC members, LJCDS’s community, and meeting hosts came together to reflect on the profound impact of sports on individuals with disabilities. Two participants shared their personal journeys, emphasizing the role of sports in alleviating challenges associated with their disabilities. The event concluded with a scrimmage involving the delegation, the Roll to Success team, and able-bodied participants.
Roll to Success, played an instrumental to the program’s success, including participation in the Global Social Hour (GSH), meeting with the delegation privately to discuss the logistics behind the Roll to Success team, and scrimmaging and participating in one of their weekly practices.
Another scrimmage the delegation participated in was with the Wheelchair Lacrosse USA (WLUSA), coaches provided insights into the sport, offering delegates mementos for continued practice in Romania. Furthermore, the delegation participated in a memorable experience with Waves4All, an adaptive surf organization.
The diverse spectrum of meetings, cultural activities, and scrimmages represented the collective responsibility of the broader community to champion healthy behaviors. In conclusion, the program fostered leadership skills in coaches, administrators, and athletes in leveraging sports programs to build capacity in community leaders and empower the delegates in their home country to build inclusive and empowering athletic programs.