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OPINION: Sports Diplomacy: The U.S. Government’s Weaponization of Sports


Sports and politics are two things that people do not realize that can be seen as a combination of entertainment and government propaganda, in which the line between the two starts to become unclear.  It is something that people should pay more attention to.

Cameron Dickerson, who was once an interim head football coach at Radford University in 2012, the head football coach of Tusculum University between 2014 and 2015, and a failed U.S. House candidate in 2019 and 2020. He had also created a private intelligence agency named Intelligence Advanced Analytics (IAA). This agency is a “politically oriented think tank and counter-terrorism operations unit” that works with different government agencies to “focus on real-world diplomatic solutions through the industry of sport.”  Although he claims to work with many agencies, his LinkedIn page shows it is a part of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). In the same bio of the CIA job, it also mentions that he was a technical targeting analyst, where he went to Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia, Turkey, and Russia. “He worked with a former U.S. naval special warfare combatant-craft crewman while running political analysis in Serbia for the 2017 presidential election.”  He also claimed that during his time in Bosnia and Serbia that he “improved the relationship between Muslim and Christian leaders using the industry of sport, specifically taking a grassroots business approach.”

There is also a group called Wrestle Like A Girl (WLAG), which was founded by Sally Roberts, a former U.S. psychological operations solider who served in Afghanistan. The organization, which has repeated meetings with the Department of Defense’s National War College at the National Defense University, has a purpose to quote the National War College to use “sports-based strategies to solve national security challenges.” An interesting fact: Jordanian Prince Ali bin Hussein is an active member on the Board of Directors at Wrestle Like A Girl.

On March 22, 2022, an assistant professor at the National War College named Corey Ray tweeted how the Roberts alongside the executive director of the NFL Players Association DeMaurice Smith went as panelists to hear the National War College and Dwight D. Eisenhower School for National Security and Resource Strategy students “present a sports-based strategy using baseball as a way to strengthen partnerships in Indo-Pac.”

Besides being a professor, Ray is a sports diplomacy and foreign policy strategist, former naval officer, National Reconnaissance Office employee, and student at the Eisenhower School.  While working for the National War College, his work tended to focus on how sports could be used to advance the United States’ interests.

On March 16, 2021, assistant professor Ray posted on Twitter how he participated in a Zoom call with Roberts along with Chief of Donor & Alumni Relations of USA Wrestling Steve Fraser, again as panelists.  Students from the National War College, the Eisenhower School, and College of International Security Affairs presented their topics. This time the panelists’ goal was to critique “viable sports-based strategies designed to solve contemporary security challenges.”

On December 4, 2019, Ray tweeted again how Roberts would appear on round 5 of the Sports and National Security panel for the National War College along with U.S. State Department Deputy Director Matt McMahon, who was the Sports Diplomacy Division Chief at the time. Their talks used sport diplomacy “to strengthen relations with Vietnam and advance gender equality in the Middle East.”

On, March 27, 2019, a former Afghan-American WLAG member Hajar Abulfazl posted on Twitter that she was at the National War College with Roberts. Abulfazl posted how they were using “sport-based strategies to solve national security challenges.”  Ray posted about the same meeting on how the two WLAG members, alongside Smith, were panelists for the Eisenhower School and National War College meeting. The students’ jobs were to “present sports-based strategies to strengthen critical alliances with NATO and Indo-Pacific security partners.”

Abulfazl was a member and coordinator of the Global Office for WLAG from February to November in 2019, which in turn meant that she was a member of the organization for only a month before the National War College meeting. Currently, Abulfazl is the girls program coordinator at Soccer Without Borders and has been since January of this year; in November 2015, she founded the Tawana Organization, an American non-profit whose goal is to use sports for positive change.

Wrestle Like a Girl is just a small piece of the puzzle of the United States’s sports-based strategy policies, or “sports diplomacy.”  People like Smith, who also seen with the National War College, continues to advocate for such strategies.  Additionally, the National War College has continued to meet with other panelists like Deborah Drucker, the program specialist of the Sports Diplomacy Division of the U.S. State Department, and Patrick McEnroe, a ESPN broadcaster and 1989 French Open winner. There, the panelists had students who “presented [them with] relevant and timely sports-based strategies to advance US interests – including [in Ukraine].”

The National War College and the Eisenhower School had students present their ideas to the Educational & Cultural Affairs section of the state department, the head section of the Sports Diplomacy division, as well as to Bobby Cassidy, who is now the Executive Director of Multimedia for Newsday Media Group. Ray would call them “experts in sports diplomacy.” Although Ray never mentioned any specific topics, the twitter posts said the “U.S brings basketball ‘showtime’ to South America.”

The National War College went on to host other panels with various “experts”:  Ryan M. Murphy and Trina Bolton (Bolten participated multiple times), both from the State Department’s Sports Diplomacy division; Chris Fenton, a self-described “China expert” who made multiple appearances at the college, naming his appearances “Feeding The Dragon,” a play on his Twitter handle @TheDragonFeeder; Shane Halley, an assistant baseball coach and recruiting coordinator for the Marymount baseball program for the Settle Mainers; and Jen Gallagher, the associate director of government relations on the United States Olympic & Paralympic committee.

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