Sports Diplomacy Program Evaluation


In class we have discussed the State Department’s inability to produce program evaluation reports because of a lack of access to scholars to review programs. I have expressed my disagreement with this notion, and recently received a Department Notice in my inbox that backed up my stance on this matter.

Per this Notice, “The Bureau of Educational & Cultural Affairs (ECA) completed an evaluation of the SportsUnited Division’s three sports diplomacy programs: Sports Envoy, Sports Visitor, and Sports Grants. The study, commissioned by ECA’s Evaluation Division and covering the years 2002 to 2009, incorporates international participant survey data and field work including interviews with coaches, alumni, and embassy staff in China and South Africa.”[1]

Before I delve into some details of this Sports Diplomacy Evaluation—which is quite interesting—I would like to provide some insight to the evaluation process conducted through the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) at the Department of State. ECA is a Bureau nestled under R, and this Bureau has staff who conduct large scale evaluations to assess “outcome achievement and long-term impacts, with respect to overall State Department, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and program goals.”[2] These evaluations usually take a year and a half to two years to complete and are retrospective in nature, utilizing standard IR research and evaluation methods. More information of existing and ongoing evaluation reports can be found here:

I provide this information to follow up on a point I made in class, that perhaps the State Department does not need to lessen security and open its doors with a blanket invitation to private sector researchers and scholars, because they have civil service staff, on-site, who are tasked with evaluating their programs. I personally believe that using these on-site staff members is more efficient/economical, as well as more appropriate, for many reasons. Some of these include the fact that DoS employees have the correct clearances to know what can be made public and what cannot, and furthermore, I believe that individuals who have been present during the planning and implementation stages are better suited to evaluate said programs.

Now on to a more exciting topic—Sports Diplomacy! This report covered three programs spanning the years 2002-2009 which seem to have been quite a success. The programs were initiated with the supposition that sports are a good way to foster cross-cultural understanding based off a universal passion for athletics. Through sports, individuals can bond regardless of language proficiencies and differences in culture and social status, merely because they are participating in the same activity and working as a team. A particularly interesting finding from the report was the fact that participants in the programs learned from their mentors how these activities can help the problems of youth in society, and took these programs home with them to implement for underserved groups in their communities.[3]

I’ll conclude with some stats from the report that show some findings from the evaluation and highlight the success of the programs:

  • 92% of respondents report an improved view of Americans.
  • 87% of respondents shared their experience from the exchange with others back home.
  • 81% of respondents rated their knowledge of free speech and freedom of the press as moderate or extensive after the program.
  • 69% of the coaches and program administrators surveyed indicate they organized new activities or assumed a leadership role in their community[4]

As Murray notes at the end of his essay on the successes of Sports Diplomacy,  “Done correctly, sports diplomacy can ease international tension with a game of cricket. It can overcome imperial sterotypes and bring old enemies together… Through sport and mega-events, billions of public perceptions can be altered, ping-pong can create alternate pathways and, more often than by war and violence, sport does move people and nations beyond the negotiation table, uniting so-called strangers through a love of the game—of sport” (Murray 195). I believe that in the case of these programs run through ECA, we indeed see evidence that Sports Diplomacy helps unite people that might traditionally not get along and move them towards mutual understanding and respect, that we would hope translates on a national level.





35 thoughts on “Sports Diplomacy Program Evaluation”

  1. Greetings and thank you for your insights.

    ECA does have strong human resources in its evaluation unit, and their efforts seem to be expanding. Your suggestion that in-house civil servants on various program staffs be more involved in the evaluation process because of their expertise and security clearances is well-founded, for sure. I feel certain that they are somewhat involved (this was my experience at USIA, at least), but that they may be stretched already on other program management duties and unable to participate as extensively as might be desired.

    The findings of this recent ECA evaluation of programming with Sports United is heartening, indeed. In addition to resonating with the Murray reading, the evaluation also resonates with the Cowan & Arsenault article read earlier this semester, citing a sports diplomacy program in Lebanon with positive results in the area of conflict resolution and team-building among youth of different religious backgrounds.


    Debbie Trent

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