On October 6, 2018 the Youth Olympic Games opened in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Since the first Youth Olympic Games eight years ago, young athletes from around the world have gathered to compete and celebrate sports. From archery to wrestling, more than 32 sports and 36 disciplines are represented at the games. This year, young men and women competed for a chance to earn one of the 1250 medals available, while spectators enjoyed educational and cultural activities that embody the Olympic values of respect, friendship, and excellence.
Recognizing the important role that sports plays in building strong communities, the U.S. Department of State leads people-to-people sports diplomacy exchanges to foster women and girls’ empowerment and mutual understanding between Americans and people around the world. In just one example, the Sports Diplomacy Division in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affarirs (ECA) teamed up with espnW and the University of Tennessee’s Center for Sport, Peace, and Society to run the espnW Global Sports Mentoring Program ( ) on women’s empowerment. Under the program, on an annual basis, young women from around the world are paired up with American female executives in the sports sector for a mentorship focused on promoting girls and women’s leadership through sports.
A 2013 alumna of the program, from Argentina, shared the impact sports can have in girls’ lives: “Sports allows you to understand that if you work hard enough you will see the results. Once you understand that through sports you can accomplish things on an individual basis, the person can make plans for his or her life, defining who they want to be in life.” She is now the founder of El Desafío, an Argentine organization that strives to create an inclusive society by fighting the roots of poverty and promoting equal opportunities for development.
On October 16, the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires and the U.S. Olympic Committee organized a youth outreach activity in the underserved community of Barracas in the City of Buenos Aires. U.S. Ambassador Edward C. Prado and Mr. Gastón Buzo, Chief of Staff for the Undersecretary of Sport in the City Government, hosted the event. Eleven U.S. athletes and three coaches participated in a sports diplomacy exchange at a multi-sport facility, which included a panel discussion with the athletes on overcoming challenges, healthy lifestyle, and balancing school and training. The City Government provides free after-school activities, sports opportunities and other services to 900-1000 young people per month, and half of the participants are girls. The Argentine women’s field hockey team, Las Leonas (the Lionesses) is frequently at the top of the global rankings.
Societies that promote the rights and opportunities for women and girls from all backgrounds are more prosperous and secure, which is why the United States puts women and girls at the heart of its public diplomacy efforts around the world. Women and girls’ participation in innovative programs and exchanges often challenges the damaging stereotypes that hold them back from reaching their full potential. Sports diplomacy, in particular, helps them develop new networks and opportunities, improve teamwork, promote inclusion, and ultimately develop the skills to enhance their leadership roles and participation in decision-making.
While you cheer on your national teams this month, take note of the collaboration between athletes of different countries, ethnicities, genders, and backgrounds. A shared love of sports is the common thread running between these young athletes. The power of athletics brings individuals, communities, and nations together. It is no surprise, then, that when women and girls gain skills and confidence through sports today, they are more prepared to seize the challenges of tomorrow—both on and off the field.