UA as a Hub for Sports Diplomacy


This week, more than a hundred experts from around the country will huddle up at the UA for the inaugural International Sports Diplomacy & Leadership Conference. The conference is a platform to showcase diverse and inclusive best practices, goals, and opportunities for using sports as a universal language to promote positive change.

Sports diplomacy is a way to build bridges and enhance interpersonal relationships since the passion for sports often transcends sociocultural and linguistic barriers and unites people.

This idea is not new at the UA. We have several programs that provide students and faculty members the opportunity to increase their cultural competencies. Examples of sports diplomacy initiatives at the UA include:

The World Soccer Program

This UA Study Abroad program run through the College of Humanities allows students to earn six general education units while experiencing major soccer tournaments around the world. The group will attend the World Cup in Russia this summer.

Global Wildcats Sports Series

This is an opportunity for international students, faculty, and scholars to experience sports in the U.S. International Student Services, International Faculty & Scholars, and UA Study Abroad partner to offer five to eight events each semester.

This gives visitors from around the world the opportunity to attend UA and professional sporting events. A group of 55 recently attended a Phoenix Suns game and 60 people went to the UA Women's Soccer match against Beijing Normal University in the fall.

General Studies: Sports & Society Concentration

This is designed to provide students with a basis for understanding the sports industry and the broader economic, political, religious, cultural, ethnic, and social systems that apply to the world of sports.

Some of our PAC-12 colleagues also provide cultural exchange opportunities for coaches. One example is the Pac-12 China Coaches Program, a collaboration between the University of Utah and Arizona State. The program, funded by the China Scholarship Council and sponsored by the Pac-12 and Federation University Sports China, is the largest U.S.-China people-to-people exchange in the country. More than 350 Chinese coaches have participated since the program’s inception in 2016.

Despite the broad resources and expanding interest in sports diplomacy, there is still ample opportunity to help advance the field. This week’s conference is one step in that direction and we should be proud that the UA is at the epicenter of this movement this week. My hope is that Sports Diplomacy becomes synonymous with other well-known traditions on campus such as the Fight Song, our rivalry with ASU, and the newly-enshrined Lute Olson statue.

Ricardo Valerdi is an Associate Professor of Systems & Industrial Engineering and the UA’s Faculty Athletics Representative.