The Public Diplomacy Council ranked the US Department of State and espnW Global Sports Mentoring Program—the flagship component of the Empowering Women and Girls through Sports initiative—as the ninth best diplomatic accomplishment in 2013. The UT Center for Sport, Peace, and Society is the sole implementing partner of the initiative. Other efforts making the list included Pope Francis’s decision to live modestly by paying his own hotel bill and reaching out to the poor, which improves the Catholic Church’s image, and Embassy Jakarta’s high-tech cultural center in an Indonesian shopping mall, which has engaged more than 480,000 visitors since 2010.
“When you set out to do something that impacts people, you don’t dream that it can have the kind of international impact this has had in a short amount of time,” said Sarah Hillyer, director of the Center for Sport, Peace, and Society. “We feel humbled and honored to play a role in something that is so important to our nation’s diplomatic relations with other countries.”
The Center for Sport, Peace, and Society in 2012 was awarded a $1.2 million cooperative agreement to implement the Empowering Women and Girls through Sports initiative. The center is part of the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences.
The initiative aims to engage young girls and women on how athletics can develop important life skills and be used to promote positive social change in their communities. It also is designed to increase cross-cultural understanding between international participants and Americans.
“It’s unique because it’s a public diplomacy initiative that emphasizes the importance of women as athletes and change agents,” said Ashleigh Huffman, the center’s assistant director. “It’s a launch pad for understanding how sports and politics interface and how sports can be used to make a political impact.”
Since June 2012, the program has worked with more than 150 women and girls from more than fifty countries, Hillyer said.
In February, the mentoring program will host a sitting volleyball team. The twelve athletes and two coaches from Mongolia will spend ten days in Oklahoma working with legendary coach Bill Hamiter and the 2012 USA Paralympic silver medal volleyball team.
In April, two programs will be hosted at UT. From March 30 through April 5, a girls basketball team with participants from Nigeria, Lebanon, Turkey, Kyrgyzstan, Argentina, and South Korea will be on campus. The group will travel to Nashville April 5 through 9 for the NCAA Final Four tournament. Then the last two weeks of April, an eighteen-member women’s soccer team from Brazil will be on campus as part of the State Department’s efforts leading up to the 2014 World Cup.
“We’re pretty excited to bring both those programs through Knoxville,” Huffman said. “When people hear ‘diplomacy,’ they think policy and government. We’re excited for our students to interact with the international athletes that are coming. That is where the real diplomacy takes place—people to people.”
For the list of the ten best public diplomacy efforts, visit the Public Diplomacy Council’s website.
To learn more about the Center for Sport, Peace, and Society and the mentoring program, visit the website.
Lola Alapo (865-974-3993, firstname.lastname@example.org)