CSL Leads Sports Diplomacy Mission to Turkmenistan
A Richnmond based delegation of adaptive sport athletes, coaches and advocates led by the VCU Center for Sport Leadership completed a 12 day sports diplomcy mission to Turkmenistan. Promoting a message of inclusion through sport, the group shared ideas and best practices in an effort to expand athletic and recreational opportuniies for people with disabilities in Turkmenistan.
The initiative, called ENVEST (Empowering New Voices through Educational and Sport Training) was funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs through their Sports Diplomacy Division. The delegation arrived in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan on October 5, where they began collaborating with adaptive sport athletes, coaches and representative from the Ministry of Sports and Youth Policy.
"We are thrilled with the success of our trip to Turkmenistan," said Carrie LeCrom, executive director of the VCU Center for Sport Leadership. "The full power of sport was on display. We are encouraged by the impact that we have already seen and we are optimistic the benefits of this exchange will grow over time."
The visit culminated in the “Developing Individual Potential through Adaptive Sports” conference held at the Ashgabat Olympic Complex October 15. Deputy Minister for Sports and Youth Policy Parahat Agayev and U.S. Ambassador Matthew Klimow opened the conference with inspiring words about the importance of inclusion and partnership. Representatives of regional sports clubs for people with disabilities, disability organizations, students and faculty members of the Turkmen State Institute of Physical Education and Sports, and members of the media and diplomatic corps observed demonstration games of adaptive chess and checkers, table tennis, goalball, and sitting volleyball and viewed a friendly match of wheelchair basketball.
“Truly, this has been an unprecedented collaboration between the Governments of the United States and Turkmenistan, and we are extremely proud of what this program has accomplished and will continue to accomplish,” Ambassador Klimow remarked at the conference. “This is meant to be not the conclusion of a single program, but the beginning of a long-term dialogue. How can we improve the lives of everyone through sports that are inclusive and welcoming to all? How can sports shape our young generations and build a future of perseverance, self-confidence, and partnership? How can we continue to build bridges of global understanding through sports diplomacy?”
During the visit, the U.S. delegation was reunited with adaptive sport athletes and coaches from Turkmenistan who visited Richmond in October 2018. While in the United States, they began developing action plans to implement in their country. During this return exchange, the U.S. delegation was updated on the progress of those plans and introduced new programming ideas that highlight recreational and competitive opportunities for athletes with disabilities.
While the majority of programming took place in the capital of Ashgabat, small groups of delegates visitied four other cities in Turkmenistan in an effort to increase the reach and impact of this initiative. (Read more about the regional viisits here.) The delegates coordinated a series of panel discussions, hands-on workshops, and breakout sessions focused around best practices in adaptive sport. In an effort to jump start adaptive sport programming in Turkmenistan, ENVEST donatied more than $10,000 in equipment and gear to various organizations that work with athletes with physical disabilities or visual impairments.
The trip to Turkmenistan culminates the most ambitious cultural exchange initiative to date for the Center for Sport Leadership, one that has spanned more than three years and included seven South Central Asia countries.
"Sport unites all of us regardless of ability or culture." said Carrie LeCrom. "We are proud of our work in Turkmenistan and the other south central Asain countries we have collaborated with during this grant. We are grateful to the State Department for these opportunities which empower and motivate us to continue using sport as a vehicle for social change."