DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: Okay, so my eyes are on the clock, so I’m going to talk fast because you’re not here for me or even for Mary or for Scott. You’re here to watch the game. You may have noticed – (applause) – so thank you, Scott, and thanks to everyone in our Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs and our Office of Protocol for organizing this event.
We are really fortunate to have so many distinguished guests with us today. There is our Diplomatic Corps. (Applause.) There is a superstar on the field and in sports diplomacy, Mary Harvey. (Applause.) There is staff from across the State Department representing nearly every corner of this agency. Yay, staff. (Applause.)
And among them is one incredible member of our team, Walter. Walter, where are you? Ah, okay. Walter, come forward, Walter, so everybody can see you. Walter Devonish, who can boast what nobody else here can: He actually played in a World Cup qualifying match when he suited up for his native Guyana over 40 years ago. He works here at the Department of State. Walter, it is a real privilege to have you here. (Applause.)
So we never know who works with us. (Laughter.) No matter where we’re from, as everyone said, soccer has played a role in all our lives. For me, it goes back to taking my daughter to practice from age seven when she and her best friend were the only two girls on an all-boys team – she learned to play very aggressive soccer – through high school, bringing orange slices and snacks for her team to enjoy after games, and feeling such joy watching her coach my two grandsons today.
I also remember soccer showing up in a very different context: amidst negotiations over the Iran deal. No joke – it was July 2014, and we were holed up in the Coburg Hotel in Vienna. As some might recall, there were a few disagreements to iron out in those talks. But on one item, everyone was on the same page. We had to schedule our meetings around the semifinal between Germany and Brazil. Trust me, no one dissented on this provision. By the time the ref placed the ball at center field – or as the British call it, Madam Ambassador, the pitch – we were all glued to our televisions.
It was a light moment in a serious time. Yet it was a reminder of what sports can do that my colleagues have spoken of today, how sports can be a unifying force and a universal language, how sports can transcend borders, challenge gender stereotypes, and teach the value of fair play. Perhaps most important, sports instills something in young people: confidence and cooperation, communication and teamwork, persistence and determination. And girls learn to throw a sharp elbow, if necessary.
It can show us how to persevere, how to come back when you fall behind, how to win, how to lose – how to lose with grace and treat an opponent with dignity. It can lift up the message of our common humanity – that we are all one human family, no matter your race, ethnicity, or religion, no matter your sexual orientation or gender identity. Just as in the “beautiful game” on the field and on our planet, everyone has a chance to make their mark, everyone is valued, and everyone belongs.
These are life lessons that apply in a soccer match just as much as they do in a workplace, in government, in business, anywhere. These are certainly lessons we can and should apply in the realm of foreign affairs. That’s why we are so invested in sports diplomacy programs here at the State Department – efforts that help us reach underrepresented populations worldwide and advance the principles of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility.
More than half of these initiatives are driven by the commitments enshrined in the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title IX, perhaps one of the greatest things ever passed here in the United States. At least a quarter of our exchanges are designed to strengthen our work around human rights, LGBTQI+ inclusion, and racial justice. These programs find us empowering women and girls and building ties between athletes and coaches worldwide.
These efforts – I keep looking at my watch. (Laughter.) These efforts see us deploying athletic legends as goodwill envoys across the globe – stars like Mary Harvey and Olympic champions like Michelle Kwan, who once served as a public diplomacy representative at the State Department and now serves as our ambassador to Belize.
Sports diplomacy, in short, helps us connect with people of all ages, all nationalities, and all backgrounds in a unique way. We see each other in a new light, and they see our country as a teammate. We find areas of common ground. That’s the power of sports; indeed, I’m going to ask my grandsons over Thanksgiving to turn in their Pokémon cards for Panini stickers. (Laughter.) That’s the best of diplomacy.
So now, before we tune into a match, there is one more bit of business to handle: the all-important wager between myself and my colleagues from the United Kingdom. Earlier today, I met with Britain’s Deputy Head of Mission James Roscoe, who is from Wales. And we made it official: If Wales manages to win, I’ll present him with a bottle of American bourbon. But when our players prevail – (laughter) – James will owe me a selection of Welsh whiskey to mark the occasion.
I’ll simply warn you, though, President Biden likes to say – and I know you’ve heard it – it’s never been a good bet to bet against America. I sure hope he’s right. (Laughter.) Go Team USA and thank you for being here. Let’s all enjoy the match. Thank you. (Applause.)