International Efforts To Empower Women and Girls Through Sports

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
ESPN President John Skipper
Treaty Room
Washington, DC
June 21, 2012

SECRETARY CLINTON: Good morning. I am so delighted to welcome all of you to the Treaty Room here at the State Department where we often announce very important issues, and it’s such a great delight for me to have this opportunity to celebrate the many benefits that sports and athletics can bring to the lives of women and girls. I’m delighted to welcome John Skipper and everyone from ESPN. And I want to welcome our very special guests, these young track and field athletes and their coaches from the Bahamas, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago. And we are really happy that you could be with us today, because this is about you – about you and young women like you all over the world. We hope you have a very rewarding experience in Washington and at the sports and leadership clinics in Oregon next week.

I’m also pleased that we have some great examples of women in sports with us, and it is, for me, a special treat because I know them and I am delighted that they can be here with us. And we have a larger group of women who are part of the new announcement that we are making today. I’ll get back to that in a minute.

We at the State Department believe in the power of sports to bring people together across barriers of all kinds – national barriers, language, cultural, racial barriers, and increasingly across the divide of gender. Now, we will see this vividly in just a few weeks when the 2012 Olympics begin in London. Whether as competitors, teammates, or simply as fans, people can find common ground in sports, and that can, therefore, be the beginning of developing better understanding and respect and even friendships that extend outside the arena or the playing field.

In addition to what sports can make happen between people, they can also bring about transformative change within people. Sports can make you stronger, tougher, more confident, more resilient, and those qualities stay with you long after you finish the race or the final buzzer sounds.

Now I know this from my own life. I was never a great athlete, but I loved sports. And I played softball, I played soccer, I played tennis. I did whatever I could, mostly with my brothers and the boys in the neighborhood. And then as I got older, there were not many opportunities, but I played half-court basketball in high school, which for women of a certain age, like my friend Coach Stringer, we remember half-court basketball as an ancient artifact. (Laughter.) And then of course, she’s gone on to coach young women who really play basketball.

Sports helped me to learn how to be part of a team. It also helped me learn how to lose. You can’t win every time you go out, and you have to figure out what you’re made of after you do lose and whether you’re ready to get up and keep going. And I had a lot of fun. So sports was important to me growing up, and I think that you could probably hear from millions, if not billions, of people in the world today about how sports is important to them.

And for girls and women, sports can have a particularly powerful effect. The United Nations has found that girls worldwide who play sports are more likely to attend and stay in school, more likely to finish their education, more likely to be in better health, and to earn higher wages during the course of their lives.

And yet, in some parts of the world today, girls and women are prohibited from playing sports at all. Or if they are allowed to play, they have fewer opportunities to do so. They can’t find a team, they can’t find a coach, and even women with exceptional athletic talent find that as they compete at higher and higher levels, the resources get even scarcer.

So the opportunity gap is what brings us together today. There are girls and women around the world who have a burning desire to participate in sports. They have the talent, the drive, the sheer love of the game. What they don’t have is the chance to play, the chance to compete, the chance to prove themselves. So we want to support opening up more doors for girls and women in sports.

Today, I’m pleased to announce a new collaboration between the State Department and espnW. It’s called the Global Sports Mentoring Program. Our goal is to identify women worldwide who are emerging leaders in sports: coaches, managers, administrators, sports journalists, marketers, and then match them with American women who are the top leaders in these fields. Through mentoring and networking we want to support the rise of women sports leaders abroad, who, in turn, can help nurture the next generation of girl and women athletes.

This program is part of a larger initiative here at the State Department, which we call Empowering Women and Girls Through Sports. In addition to sports mentoring, we’re sending sports envoys out into the world to play and talk with young women, and we’re bringing sports visitors to the United States, like our special guests here from the Caribbean.

To support all these efforts, I’m pleased to announce the launch of our new Council to Empower Women and Girls Through Sports. And we have enlisted some remarkable women from outside the State Department – top American women athletes, coaches, journalists – to help us advance our work on behalf of girl athletes worldwide. Four members of the council are here today: Olympic swimmer Donna de Varona, who has been a friend of mine for a long time; Vivian Stringer, the excellent, legendary coach of the Rutgers University women’s basketball team who stands up for women at every turn; Julie Foudy, one of the top U.S. women’s soccer players of all time, and we’re so pleased she can be here; and Laura Gentile, who founded espnW. That’s a pretty amazing team. And we have others who are part of that team whose names will be announced in our press statements and announcements today.

So we want to find ways to get more women and girls on the field, the court, the track, in the pool, the mat, wherever their interests and talents take them so that they can discover their strengths, develop their skills, experience that special satisfaction that sports can bring, win or lose. And we believe in the positive effects that can flow out of that experience for girls and women across their lifetimes, and, by extension, for their families and communities.

That’s the core value at the heart of our work. And it’s especially important this year – the 40th anniversary of the Title IX decision, which gave many American girls the chance to play sports in school for the first time. The Title IX decision was revolutionary, and I think all of us who care about opportunities for girls and women view it as one of the most consequential pieces of legislation for women in our country’s history. And it wasn’t only about sports; it was about making sure women had access to laboratories, classrooms, all that made up the academic, educational environment.

So I’m very proud to be here announcing this effort, and I’m excited to learn more about what’s going to come, and I thank the leaders who have agreed to be part of this.

And now, let me introduce John Skipper.

MR. SKIPPER: Thank you, Madam Secretary. It is a great honor for us at ESPN to work with you and to work with the State Department in this important program to empower girls and young women. We at ESPN have long believed in the power of sports to improve lives. As Secretary Clinton pointed out, it is incontrovertible that young women who play sports have a greater chance of success in all facets of life.

And we at ESPN have long supported women’s sports. A little over a year ago, we created the espnW Initiative to focus our efforts to try to continue to promote women’s sports. Secretary Clinton talked about the importance of Title IX. We are just in the midst of a three-month-long celebration of the 40th anniversary of Title IX. On June 23rd, which is this Saturday, which is the actual anniversary of Title IX, at ESPN across many of our networks we will feature over 175 hours of live women’s sports. And we could not be prouder to take the opportunity to feature what the great female athletes of our country do. We’re very pleased to see some of the athletes from the Caribbean who we hope to feature at some point, so thank you for being here. We’re thrilled to have you with us. We’re very proud to be part of this initiative.

I want to thank – always important to have other partners and sponsors. I want to thank Burton, Colavita, Procter & Gamble, Gatorade, Saatchi & Saatchi, Under Armour, and the USA Gymnastics Team, who we’re announcing today are joining with us in sponsoring mentors across those good companies. We need a lot of partners to do this great work. We thank all of you for being here today. We’re proud to be a part of this. Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you so much, John.

MR. SKIPPER: Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: And I really appreciate it.

MR. SKIPPER: Thank you, appreciate it.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you, and thanks to all of you who work to make it possible. (Applause.)

PRN: 2012/1025