Good afternoon, everyone.  It’s such a pleasure to see so many new faces here today. 

Thank you to the Czech Republic’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for hosting us in this beautiful palace and for their leadership on this year’s successful Ministerial. 

Thank you also to those who have made the trip to be here for this event, including our friends and co-organizers from Football for Peace and Sparta Prague. 

As the Ambassador mentioned, I serve as the Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights at the U.S. State Department. 

In my decades as a diplomat and short-lived, and rather inglorious, high-school soccer career, I have learned that success in diplomacy is not all that different from the playing field – it requires training, discipline, good judgement, and teamwork. Merging these two worlds is only fitting; in fact, sports diplomacy is an effective way to bring people together and build mutual understanding, cooperation, and unity. 

It allows us to forge new partnerships, especially with youth communities, on the vital work of this Ministerial.  This includes the importance of religious freedom or belief in sustaining vibrant, resilient, and prosperous societies; the value of tolerance and harmony between different faith communities; and the imperative for all nations to protect and promote universal rights.    

This message is certainly not new for many here today. Using your profile and your voice to advocate for a better world is admirable. 

We need influential people like you to speak both to us – diplomats trying to reach youth communities and build inter-faith tolerance – and to those we can’t reach as easily – youth and sports fans who closely follow and listen to your voices.  

As we see teams, like Sparta Prague, engaging on issues of great importance around the world, it is vital that we partner to advance a shared vision of a world where universal rights, including the freedom of religion or belief, are cherished; where differences in religious beliefs and between faith communities serve as a source of strength, not division.

Working specifically with young people in schools and on the field is one way we can advance this vision. Organizations that teach tolerance to children and schools, including Football for Peace, prove that we can and must meet youth where they are.  

Through sports diplomacy, we have unique opportunities to bring in new voices, educate more young people, and prevent intolerance and hate before they begin. 

Today’s exhibition match is just one example of how sports can broaden the circle and help us advance our shared goals. 

All of us will learn something from each other. We diplomats may learn a bit more about football, a bit more about Czech football stars, and a bit more about how to effectively engage youth communities on the vital issues of religious freedom and inter-faith tolerance and respect. It’s my great hope that the youth playing and attending will learn a bit more about what it means to be a valuable player and teammate, on and off the field.  

Again, thank you to our hosts, the Czech MFA, to our partners – Football for Peace and Sparta Prague – and to our esteemed panelists and guests.  Best of luck in the match today, and I will be rooting for you all.

U.S. Department of State

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