Diplomats Connect People

Today’s diplomacy recognizes that relationships between countries are held together by much more than just dialogues between government officials. 

American diplomats promote people-to-people exchanges that build mutual understanding and encourage long-term personal and professional ties between countries.

People-to-people exchanges offer opportunities for people to experience and learn about other countries, building connections that often last far into the future. 

Sports and Cultural Exchange Programs

Could your favorite sports figures or musical artist also act as diplomat?

Cultural Diplomacy is one of the oldest forms of diplomatic exchange going back to ancient times. Today, cultural and sports diplomacy continue to play an important role in international relations allowing for people-to-people experiences that can transcend borders, cultures, and national differences. Through such activities, diplomats bring people together and often break down preconceived ideas about differences.

The power of sports and culture makes them essential parts of diplomacy. Bringing people together to enjoy (or play) a game of baseball, attend a concert, or learn something new helps people understand each other better and feel more connected. This can help them work together on shared issues and challenges.

Programs created or sponsored by the U.S. Department of State focus on interests and areas with wide appeal. There are dozens of programs focusing on sports, culture and the arts, education, and technology. Sports stars such as Michelle Kwan and Cal Ripken, Jr. have been involved in sports exchange programs.

Sports and cultural exchanges advance American values and policy priorities, such as empowering women and girls, elevating the contributions of differently-abled communities, or highlighting the talents of marginalized communities.

Educational Exchange Programs

One of the longest-running is the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program, which sends approximately 800 American scholars and professionals every year to approximately 130 countries. The Fulbright program began in 1946 and has built lasting connections between countries and people for generations.

One of the newest is the TechCamp Program, which started in 2010. It organizes workshops that connect private sector technology experts with journalists, civil society advocates, and others to explore and apply innovative tech solutions to global issues.

“The real crucial link in international exchange is the last three feet, which is bridged by personal contact, one person talking to another.”

– Edward R. Murrow, American journalist and U.S. Information Agency Director (1961-1964)
Case Study:

Sports Diplomacy in Cuba

On July 20, 2015, the United States and Cuba resumed normal diplomatic relations, officially recognizing each other and opening embassies in each other’s capitals. The United States severed relations with Cuba in January 1961 as a result of Cuban leader Fidel Castro’s reforms and the Cuban government’s increased cooperation with the Soviet Union.

After diplomatic relations resumed, U.S. President Barack Obama visited Cuba in March 2016. As part of the visit, an exhibition game was organized in Havana between the Tampa Bay Rays and Cuba’s National Team. Obama’s visit was the first by a U.S. president in 88 years. The decision to include a baseball game as part of the events reflected a long-running love of baseball shared by both Cuba and the United States.

Speaking at a joint press conference with Cuban president Raúl Castro during the visit, President Obama noted the power of sports and culture to bond people together across borders. He stated that both countries “… [are] moving ahead with more events and exchanges that bring Cubans and Americans together as well. We all look forward to tomorrow’s matchup between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban National Team.”


First Base from U.S.-Cuba Baseball Game

This base was in play during innings 4 through 6 of the March 22, 2016, exhibition game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban National Team at Estadio Latinoame, Havana, Cuba. U.S. President Barack Obama and his family and Cuban President Raoul Castro attended the game. The game occurred during Obama’s historic visit to Cuba after the two countries re-established official diplomatic relations in 2015. Gift of Major League Baseball
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Cultural, Educational, and Sports Diplomacy in Photos

Sports Diplomacy

Participants from the 2019 Sport for Community exchange program pose after participating in a Special Olympics event in Prince George’s County, Maryland. This State Department exchange program brings disability sports leaders from around the world to connect with their U.S. counterparts. State Department photo.
Sports envoy and Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken shares tips with young Japanese players at a Baseball Clinic in 2011. State Department photo.
Two-time Paralympian and Paralympic Games Silver Medalist John Register making his medal-winning leap in the Long Jump. In addition to his Sports Envoy work with the State Department, John is a Persian Gulf War veteran and TEDx Motivational Speaker.  He embraced a “new normal” in becoming an amputee following a misstep over a hurdle while training for the 1996 Olympic Games, after participation in two consecutive Olympic trials. Photo courtesy of John Register.

Cultural Diplomacy

The American band the Jonah Levine Collective performs for an audience in Minsk, Belarus, thanks to the U.S. Embassy in Minsk. Exchange programs like these offer opportunities for artists not only to perform but to connect with local artists and emerging leaders. U.S. Embassy Minsk photo.
The Reggie Wilson/Fist and Heel performance group conducts a workshop in Panama through the Dance Motion USA exchange program. Through this exchange program, this group also met with an organization that supports the homeless in Haiti and connected with differently-abled artists in the Dominican Republic. State Department photo.
A man painting an old painting
A paintings conservator carefully restores the damaged frescoes in the Peribleptos church in Ohrid, Macedonia through the Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP). State Department photo.

Educational Exchanges

Diplomats from the U.S. Embassy in Ljubljana, Slovenia organized the event GeoBioBlitz in 2018. The event included engaging Slovenian students about why pollination is so important and why it is under threat. U.S. Embassy in Ljubljana photo.
With support from a Fulbright Program scholarship, Portuguese student Luciana Ribeiro Dinis studied microbiology and immunology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and earned her Ph.D. in Molecular Microbiology and Immunology. Fulbright photo

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