The Olympic and Paralympic Games are regarded as the world’s leading international sporting contest featuring summer and winter competitions in which thousands of athletes from over 200 nations have the opportunity to represent their country in a variety of athletic events.
Inspired by the ancient Olympic Games in Greece, then revived in the late 19th century with the initiation of the International Olympic Committee, the modern Olympics and Paralympics offer a proving ground for athletes to compete against the best in the world, fulfilling the Olympic motto: faster, higher, stronger.
As Olympians and Paralympians break records, they also break barriers. The Olympics and Paralympics not only demonstrate the power of sport to bring people together and bridge cultural divides, but they also highlight international progress. The Olympics and Paralympics have showcased the global advancement of women and girls, racial minorities, and people with disabilities, all important U.S. foreign policy priorities.
The United States has long recognized the power of athletes and sport to advance U.S. foreign policy goals and promote American ideals. With the creation of the Sports Diplomacy Division in 2002, the U.S. Department of State has engaged athletes, coaches, educators, and sports journalists to harness the power of sport as a universal language. The Sports Envoy program, one of four program pillars within the Division, has played a key role in diplomacy by sending more than 330 athletes and coaches to 130 countries to deliver high-impact programming with key audiences around the world.
Sports Envoys are recruited by the U.S. Department of State’s Sports Diplomacy Division in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), in collaboration with American professional sports leagues, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committees, and national sports federations. Sports Envoys are community-focused athletes, coaches, and educators that are passionate about sharing lessons learned through sport with global audiences. During programming, they lead youth sport clinics, train coaches, deliver sports equipment, and engage with media and high-ranking government officials. Finally, Sports Envoys represent a vision of hope, unity, and mutual respect around the world through sport and contribute to the larger mission of the U.S. Department of State, by creating a more sustainable, equitable and secure world.
The Sports Diplomacy Division of the U.S. Department of State is proud to showcase the accomplishments and influence of the 96 Olympic and Paralympic Sports Envoy alumni, and will be cheering hard for the six American athletes competing in the Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo who are Sports Diplomacy alumni (as marked by an asterisk).
*Katie Ledecky: The most decorated female swimmer in Olympic history, Katie Ledecky will look to add to her 34-medal collection this summer in Tokyo 2020! As a Sports Envoy, Katie traveled to Japan to host swim clinics and promote American educational opportunities.
*Allyson Felix: The only woman to win gold six times in track and field, Allyson Felix will shoot for her seventh gold medal and first one as a mom at Tokyo 2020! As a Sports Envoy, Allyson traveled to Brazil to lead social inclusion and gender equality sessions with youth.
The only woman to win gold six times in track and field 🏃🏾♀️, @AllysonFelix will shoot for her seventh gold medal and first one as a mom at #Tokyo2020! As a Sports Envoy, Allyson traveled to Brazil to lead social inclusion and gender equality sessions with youth. #SportsDiplomacy pic.twitter.com/TDhonyg6eU
— ECA Acting Assistant Secretary Lussenhop (@ECA_AS) July 16, 2021
*Alex Morgan: One of the most prolific goal scorers in women’s soccer history, Alex Morgan will shoot for her second gold medal in Tokyo 2020. As a Sports Envoy, Alex traveled to Tanzania to empower young girls and promote gender equality with her husband, Servando Carrasco. Alex also teamed up with Sports Envoy Chloe Kim and athletes Sue Bird and Simone Manuel to form TOGETHXR, a new sports, culture, and activism brand.
Look back to @alexmorgan13 and Servando Carrasco's Sport Envoy trip to Tanzania in 2017 where they promoted gender equity and inclusion through sport demonstrating that sport is for all. "Michezo ni ya wote" #SportsDiplomacy pic.twitter.com/1MZNBdr4Nl
— SportsDiplomacy (@SportsDiplomacy) March 12, 2021
Misty May-Treanor: Three-time Olympic gold medalist and one of the most successful volleyball players in U.S. history, Misty May Treanor, served as a Sports Envoy to Russia before winning gold in London 2012. We’ll miss watching her passion and work ethic this year in Tokyo 2020!
Three-time Olympic gold medalist and one of the most successful volleyball players 🏐 in U.S. history, @MistyMayTreanor, served as a Sports Envoy to Russia before winning gold in London 2012. We’ll miss watching her passion and work ethic this year in #Tokyo2020! #SportsDiplomacy pic.twitter.com/xifeFVpWnM
— Exchange Programs (@ECAatState) July 21, 2021
Khadevis Robinson: Two-time Olympian and one of the fastest American men to run the 800m, Khadevis Robinson, served as a Sports Envoy to Zimbabwe in 2018. While there, he spoke to youth and coaches about gender-based violence prevention and sexual harassment in sport.
Jessica Mendoza: As the first woman analyst for the Major League Baseball, two-time Olympian Jessica Mendoza is paving the way for women in sports. She traveled to Panama as a Sports Envoy to grow the sport of softball in Latin America and empower young girls and women as athletes, leaders, and sports professionals.
Tucker Dupree: The fastest blind swimmer in U.S. history, 3x Paralympian Tucker Dupree is charting new waters for swimmers with visual impairments. As a virtual State Department Sports Envoy, Tucker uses his platform in sport to educate others on disability rights and growth mindset.
*Rudy Garcia-Tolson: The first double-knee amputee to complete an Ironman Triathlon, Rudy Garcia-Tolson will compete in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics! As a virtual Sports Envoy to Colombia, Rudy shared his message with injured Colombian Armed Forces, “A brave heart is a strong weapon.”
The first double-knee amputee to complete an @IRONMANtri, @RudyGTcaf will compete in the #Tokyo2020 @Paralympics! As a virtual Sports Envoy to Colombia, Rudy shared his message with injured Colombian Armed Forces, “A brave heart is a strong weapon." 💪 #SportsDiplomacy pic.twitter.com/KTpP63adHE
— Exchange Programs (@ECAatState) July 19, 2021
*Deja Young: Exchange alumna Deja Young is a two-time Paralympian in track and fieldand advocate for mental health. Deja shared her story of battling depression to battling for gold as a Sports Envoy in Nigeria.
*Scout Bassett: A fire which led to a leg amputation as a child is overshadowed by the fire in which Scout Bassett powers down the track. An exchange alumna, Scout traveled back to her home country of China in 2018 as a Sports Envoy to promote disability rights and inclusion.
About the Authors: Dr. Ashleigh Huffman, Program Specialist in the Sports Diplomacy Division, is an international expert in sports diplomacy and gender equality. Dr. Huffman co-founded the Center for Sport, Peace, and Society at the University of Tennessee and has led programs in 35 countries for sport-based social change. Evan Hailes is an intern in the Sports Diplomacy Division and recent graduate of Winthrop University, where he competed in track and field and earned a degree in International Business.