By: Carley Crain
On Wednesday, Sept. 22 at 7 p.m., members of the greater Springfield community gathered on Zoom to listen to a webinar hosted by the World Affairs Council of Western Massachusetts (WAC) in collaboration with Springfield College. The evening featured Ryan Murphy, who is a program officer in the Sports Diplomacy Division of the State Department, which is a branch of the government that is under the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
WAC hosts many different kinds of events centered around sports, social justice issues and politics. Some of these events include a Global Security Forum, their Instant Issues Online Series, and their most recent China Town Hall.
Murphy specifically currently directs the International Sports Programming Initiative (ISPI), as well as working with the United States Olympic/Paralympic Committees and the National Governing Bodies of Sport.
Throughout his career, Murphy has focused on promoting sports globally as well as working with coaches and teams to help strengthen relationships within all types of sports.
Springfield senior, and co-Editor-in-Chief of The Student, Irene Rotondo hosted the webinar, as she asked her own prepared questions before the audience chimed in. Murphy was introduced by Cynthia Melcher, who is the executive director of WAC’s Western Massachusetts branch.
He emphasized the important relationship between social justice and sports in today’s society through WAC’s numerous international initiatives.
Some of these initiatives include recruiting youth athletes and coaches from other countries, collaborating with the U.S embassies overseas, and working with universities across the country to implement sports diplomacy programs, all while spreading the message about what American sports are like.
“We give grant funding and have cooperative agreements with different NGOs and universities scattered across the United States who implement two-way exchange programs,” explained Murphy. “We not only send Americans overseas to work with underserved and underprivileged communities, but we also work to recruit youth athletes, coaches, and administrators to travel to the U.S. and really let them see the U.S. through the lens of sports.”
Through his work, Murphy has seen how sports are an integral part of our culture and society. He has been able to help numerous athletes with legal complications that involve U.S citizenship, all because of the connection to sports. Murphy then went on to explain how the sports diplomacy part of the government came into existence, which dates all the way back to 2002, a year after 9/11.
After 9/11, the country went into a state of confusion and fear. Nobody knew what was going on or who else could be involved in terrorism, which ultimately led to widespread discrimination against American citizens of Muslim descent. According to NPR.org, Muslim hate crimes increased 500 percent from 2000-2009.
“Really the office was created as a Muslim outreach tool after 9/11 here in the United States. It was really a way for the U.S. government to engage in Muslim communities around the globe and domestically here in the U.S.,” explained Murphy. “Now we have really expanded and have programs all around the globe.”
A common theme throughout the webinar was how all kinds of different sports can connect different people, communities, and cultures. An example of this is the work the WAC did throughout the recent Tokyo Summer Olympics. The sports diplomacy unit plans to continue this momentum into the upcoming Winter Olympics that will be taking place in February in Beijing, China. WAC and the ISPI’s main priority is inclusion and equality across different minority groups that often face prejudice and discrimination.
“All of our programs tie back to a foreign policy goal of the U.S government and Department of State. So we could be working on gender equity in sports or adaptive disability sports, or even climate change,” explained Murphy. “Once we identify a sport and a theme, we work with our partners to build up the program.”
Like with every large cooperation and business, COVID-19 has forced the sports diplomacy unit to adapt. However, with increasing vaccination rates across the country, regularly scheduled programs are starting to run again across the country, and here in Western Massachusetts.
The Zoom webinar ended with a question and answer session, where Murphy went into more depth about his work with the government and sports. He also touched upon the application process for internships, as he encouraged all interested Springfield students to apply. Murphy emphasized how the internship application process is competitive, but also how it is a great experience for students who are interested in sports, leadership, politics, and social issues.
For more information on the World Affairs Council of Western Massachusetts, check out their website, https://www.wacwestma.org/. They also have a Youtube Channel, (World Affairs Council of Massachusetts), where the webinar is posted to watch.