A pitch for sports diplomacy

By Tommy Goodman

Two years ago, in a private restaurant (“paladar”) in Havana, owner Julio noticed the baseball equipment worn by our group in the United States. Caribbean Education and Baseball Foundation (CEBF) and energetically launched an invitation to play ball with its staff in a “palatal league”.

And just like that, despite over 60 years of mistrust and misunderstanding between our countries, we all became instant friends over dinner because of a shared love of baseball.

I was first introduced to this type of sports diplomacy almost a decade ago by a longtime Minor League Baseball executive. Lou Schwechheimer, who founded the CEBF to bring the United States and the Caribbean – and particularly Cuba – closer together through baseball (as captured by the New York Times).

Lou’s passion deeply affected me – it was my “ah ha” moment – and I agreed to step down from my position at a leading international consulting firm to help build CEBF from scratch.

Unfortunately, last summer Lou lost a tough battle against Covid-19 and the CEBF ceased operations in the Caribbean.

Now, with the promise of a renewed approach to international relations under President Biden’s leadership, what I hope will bring new life to the United States is an increased use of sport in diplomacy and development.

Of course, this idea is not new.

For example, 2021 marks the 50e anniversary of the American-Chinese ping-pong exhibitions that led to a breakthrough in relations between the two countries – a time when, as Time Magazine observed, “Probably never before in history has a sport been used so effectively as a tool of international diplomacy.”

But much more can be done in space, and the CEBF’s work with Cuba, a longtime US political opponent, represents the perfect proof of concept, even on a relatively small scale.

Traveling the island more than two dozen times, CEBF has used baseball as a “common denominator” to help bring Cubans and Americans together and to help communities in need.

We have engaged and collaborated with a range of partners and supporters in Cuba, ranging from young and professional players and coaches to historians, artists, musicians, journalists and everyday fans, in addition to sports-focused government officials. , culture and international relations.

Our trip included a United States-Cuba Symposium to SUNY Cortland and the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown; a baseball art exhibit in Washington DC featuring renowned Havana-based works Reynerio tamayo; Interpersonal “experiential” journeys; speeches; as well as donations of equipment and many other exchanges and initiatives.

Very few of those connections – if any – would have been made without the unifying nature of baseball.

Government policies and actions on both sides ultimately failed our efforts in Cuba. Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and elsewhere in the Caribbean to run programs that included skills clinics with former MLB players, youth rehabilitation fields, equipment donations, and various educational initiatives.

Although cut short by the pandemic, our global work has positively impacted hundreds of young players and dozens of underserved communities while demonstrating the transformative capacity of sport in areas such as capacity building, exchanges cultural and education, health and well-being, etc.

With that in mind – and to help advance its laudable re-engagement with American leadership in the world – the Biden administration would do well to focus increased attention and funding on sports-related initiatives, including for the excellent but under the radar and under the radar. -work of the State Department Sports Diplomacy Division. It could also consider increasing the involvement of other federal agencies, such as the United States Agency for International Development (now headed by famous sports enthusiast Samantha Power).

In addition, the formation of a government-led task force could bring together various stakeholders from the private, educational and non-profit sectors as well as international organizations such as the UN (which recently observed the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace) to think about creative ways to use sport to elevate platforms while advancing U.S. goals and focusing on priority issues such as Covid-19, climate change and human rights.

Sadly, my friend and mentor Lou Schwechheimer can no longer participate, but his vision inspires a brighter future: Sport can be a simple and powerful way to unleash the positive power of the American example, break down divisions, bond, raise awareness. , empower excluded populations, create economic opportunities, give hope, promote reconciliation and peacebuilding, and much more.

As indicated by the CEBF experience, where the smaller acts – such as bonding baseball at Julio’s paladar in Cuba – have served to unify, sports diplomacy can be relatively easy to perform and should be deployed to larger scale by the United States as a force. for the global good.

Tommy goodman is a Washington, DC-based international affairs executive with a passion for sports diplomacy. Most recently, he was Executive Director of the Caribbean Educational and Baseball Foundation, a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization using baseball to support youth development and build cultural bridges between the United States and the United States. Caribbean. He previously worked as an international strategic advisor at The Cohen Group; as a lawyer in the private sector and the federal government; and as a teacher in Costa Rica.

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