SportsUnited: Laos

The Maureen and Mike Mansfield Center of the University of Montana is pleased to host a two-way SportsUnited Initiative with Laos on the theme of Youth Sports Engagement. Funded by the SportsUnited Division of the State Department, the Mansfield Center project uses sport as a means to support underserved populations in Laos, including ethnic minorities and youth with disabilities. 

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Program Overview

Photo of a female Chinese student running with yellow streamers trailing behind her.Sports diplomacy has emerged as an integral part of efforts to build relations between the U.S. and other nations.  This type of diplomacy uses the universal passion for sports as a way to transcend linguistic and sociocultural differences, and bring people together.  Participation in sports teaches leadership, teamwork, and communication skills that help young people succeed in all areas of their lives.

The U.S. Department of State has created the SportsUnited Division to tap into sports diplomacy’s ability to increase dialogue and cultural understanding between people around the world. The Division’s use of sports as a platform exposes foreign participants to American culture while providing them with an opportunity to establish links with U.S. sports professionals and peers. In turn, Americans learn about foreign cultures and the challenges young people from other countries face today. Program alumni also become part of the State Department's extensive International Exchange Alumni network. SportsUnited has involved thousands of people from over 100 countries in sports exchanges to do just this.  The Mansfield Center is honored to be the sole recipient of SportsUnited grants in the state of Montana.

Photo of a tennis court in LaosThough greatly separated by distance, Montana and Laos have a surprising number of commonalities.  Both are landlocked, feature rugged mountainous terrain, and share industries such as agriculture, timber, forestry, electricity generation, and mining. Both have environmental concerns related to water, deforestation, eco-tourism, and recycling. Each is home to significant communities of indigenous peoples.

Montana and Laos also share a little known history dating back to the Vietnam War. From 1964-1973, the U.S. conducted massive aerial bombardment in Laos to disrupt North Vietnamese supply routes, dropping more than two million tons of bombs.  An estimated 30% failed to explode, resulting in the world’s largest contamination from unexploded ordnance (UXO). Villagers are regularly injured by accidental contact; 40% of those disabled are youth.  Because of the work of Montana or Montana-trained smokejumpers in Laos during the war, the Mansfield Center finds the program theme of supporting youth with disabilities to be particularly relevant.

Montana Participants

“These programs are a unique opportunity to connect youth across the world... This fits right in with preparing our kids to compete in a global economy and build mutual understanding between such different cultures.”
--Glenn Moffatt, Paxson Elementary School health and wellness teacher and 2014 SportsUnited: China participant.

Photo of a Montana Teacher and a Chinese student using hula-hoops.Six Montana sports professionals served as citizen ambassadors in the SportsUnited program.  The exchange entailed an all-expense paid two-week exchange in Laos in March 2016, and the opportunity to work with Lao sports professionals traveling to Montana later that year.

The team from Montana drew from their expertise to share ways that sport can play a role in youth development at the grassroots level, while promoting technical proficiency among the youth sport coaches, sport administrators, and sport officials. The program helped build teamwork and self-discipline in youth that can lead to success in other aspects of their lives. They experienced both professional and cultural activities during their Laos exchange.  While working with schools K-12 and associations supporting youth, the group also learned about the culture and history of Laos in travel to the capital city of Vientiane and to the northern mountainous region featuring the mysterious Plain of Jars.

For more information, contact Deena Mansour at deena.mansour@umontana.edu or at (406)-243-2713.