Interview: Raymond Harvey of the US Department of State’s SportsUnited Program

Sports United Interview

“Connecting People, Creating Understanding”: Interview with Raymond Harvey from the USA’s SportsUnited Program

Monday, April 19, 2010 at 11:22am

“Connecting People, Creating Understanding”

I have written previously about the Athletic Exchanges between Iran and the United States. While conducting research for the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy I came into closer contact with the institutions that coordinate these exchanges. I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to conduct an interview with Raymond H. Harvey from The US State Department’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Exchange.“Connecting People, Creating Understanding” is the ECA’s motto.

Interview Conducted by Martin Milinski

Can you give us a brief description of how your organization operates and how it started?
The Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs (ECA) restarted sports programming in 2002. Sports are a shared cultural passion that can bring people together across the divisions of region, race and religion in athletic competition that is a powerful source of national pride and solidarity. Through international sports, we see the proliferation of messages of international understanding, cultural tolerance and mutual respect. There are three Sports United Programs.
Sports Envoys-Working with the national sports leagues and the US Olympic Committee, athletes and coaches in various sports are chosen to serve as envoys or ambassadors of sport in overseas programs that include conducting clinics, visiting schools and speaking to youth. The American athletes and coaches conduct drills and team building activities, as well as engage the youth in a dialogue on the importance of an education, positive health practices and respect for diversity.
Sports Visitors -Nominated by our US embassies overseas, selected athletes, managers and coaches are brought to the U.S. for technical sports training, sports management, conflict resolution training and exposure to valuable US sports contacts and then are encouraged to return to conduct in-country clinics for youth with their newly learned skills.
Sports Grant Competition-ECA has an annual open competition under our International Sports Initiative. Public and private non-profit institutions, 501(c)(3), may submit proposals to discuss approaches designed to enhance and improve the infrastructure of youth sports programs. The focus of all programs must be reaching out to non-elite youth ages 7-17. There are four themes that a proposal can address; Youth Sports Management, Training Sports Coaches, Youth with Disability, and Sports and Health. The list of eligible countries changes each year.

Have you seen any changes in your work under the new administration?
No, there have been no changes.

When I told my team about the USDoS/ECA work, no one had heard about it. I found it strange, that your work is still unknown to some. Would you like to comment on that?
Overseas, our programs are better known by their brand name such as the Fulbright program, the International visitor program, Muskie Scholarship program, Humphrey Program, etc. I don‘t find it odd that people fail to identify the organization that supports these branded programs. The brand names have been around longer than their various institutional homes. The exchange program was part of the Department of State, then housed at the United State Information Agency and now back in the Department.

I saw that the Women’s Badminton team was denied visas for their trip to Iran this year. Do you see this as a setback for your program?
No, the Iranian Sports Federations continue to reach out to their U.S. counterparts. USA Wrestling has been invited to return to Iran for a competition. The Iranian Basketball Federation wants to come to the U.S. to train. The Iranian MFA determines who receives a visas, both exit and entry. U.S. Women’s Badminton team was traveling to participant in an international tournament.

As far as you know, did the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs give a reason for their rejection?
The MFA explanation was there was insufficient time to issue the visas.

It was interesting to learn about the case of Hamed Ehadadi’s signing with the Memphis Grizzlies. I saw that the NBA had some legal difficulty signing him. Could you just give me some information, if you have any, about how that issue was resolved?
Not sure that there was much difference between Yao Ming’s signing and Ehadadi’s signing. There are always contractual issues between a player’s government and the player when someone signs overseas. I believe that the Memphis Grizzlies were required to obtain an OFAC license which took some time.
What challenges are your Program currently facing?
We have more demand for sports programming than resources available. Sports are governed by their respective seasons. NBA players are available in July and August while baseball players are free in November and December. These are very small windows of opportunity. When combined with differences in school years, holidays and religious celebration, programming can be very tough.

Is there anything NGOs like us can do to support your work?
We run an annual grants competition to enable U.S. NGOs to work directly with the Department.

What is next for the BECA?
I cannot speak for the Bureau, but SportsUnited wants to branch out into other less traditional sports. We are currently working with snowboarders and NASCAR

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