Cal Ripken Jr., who has taken on an increasingly prominent role as a goodwill ambassador for the United States since retiring from the Orioles in 2001, will host 16 teenagers from Japan who were profoundly affected by this year’s earthquake and tsunami, the State Department will announce today.
Ripken’s latest diplomatic undertaking, which follows a similar exchange he led with Chinese students in 2007, is part of a broader government effort to bridge cultural divides through sport and burnish the nation’s image abroad.
In this case, State Department officials said it is also intended to focus attention on the teens, some of whom lost relatives when the quake struck in March.
The Hall of Fame shortstop will travel to Japan in November, his third trip as a public diplomacy envoy. He led a delegation to China in 2007 and visited Nicaragua in 2008.
Ripken also hosted teenagers and coaches from Iraq last year, though that effort was conducted separately from the State Department.
The 16 students — boys and girls from 14 to 17 years old — arrived late Monday and will meet with Ripken and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in Washington on Tuesday. Over the next few weeks they will participate in baseball clinics, including at the Ripken Youth Baseball Academy in Aberdeen.
On Thursday, the students and four of their coaches will visit Baltimore to watch the Orioles play the Chicago White Sox at Camden Yards.
Sport has been a powerful diplomatic tool for decades — most notably in 1971, when the U.S. table tennis team became the first sports delegation to visit Beijing since 1949. The trip helped to thaw relations between the United States and China, leading to a visit by President Richard Nixon and adding “ping pong diplomacy” to the lexicon.
More recently, the Cricket World Cup semifinal game between India and Pakistan in April gained worldwide attention as the nation’s two leaders sat side-by-side to cheer on their teams despite increased tensions on the Indian subcontinent since the 2008 attacks in Mumbai.
In the United States, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ Sports United Office sends sports figures around the globe throughout the year. The program was established under President George W. Bush and continues under President Barack Obama.
In addition to Ripken, figure skater Michelle Kwan and Ken Griffey Jr. are also sports envoys for the United States.