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U.S. Helps Brazil Use Sports Events to Promote Democracy

By Kathryn McConnell | Staff Writer | 01 March 2013
Official portrait of Thomas Shannon (State Dept.)

Ambassador Thomas Shannon

Washington — The United States is working with Brazil to help the nation use its position as host of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games to pursue democratic goals, said Thomas Shannon, U.S. ambassador to Brazil.

Democratic goals are “about including all aspects of society in national projects and allowing them a voice in national destiny,” Shannon said February 27 at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

He added that the upcoming mega–sporting events pose opportunities “to enhance the individual capacity of people to achieve their own destinies — what democracy is all about.”

The U.S.-Brazil partnership to ensure that the games are successful started during President Obama’s visit to Brasilia in 2011, when he signed a memorandum of understanding to enhance dialogue between the two countries, particularly in the area of security for the mega-events, Shannon said. U.S. Embassy staff then helped the U.S. departments of Justice and Homeland Security engage in discussions with their Brazilian counterparts and with the security chiefs in the states that will host World Cup games, he said.

The U.S. Embassy also signed a “subnational agreement” with Brazil that allowed the staff of the U.S. Embassy and consulates to engage with staff in the 12 states and in the many municipalities and other subnational groups that will take part in hosting games, Shannon said.

This allowed the U.S. staff to encourage the government at all levels to ensure that minorities and excluded population groups be included in business opportunities related to the events. U.S. engagement with Brazil’s state and municipal officials also helped the country begin to develop a national sports culture “dedicated to social inclusion and athletic excellence,” Shannon said.

“Brazil is in a sports revolution,” he said. “A country which was monosport for the longest time with soccer [football] is now a polysport country. Whether it's volleyball, basketball, extreme sports, parasailing, ballooning, kayaking or surfing, the Brazilians do it with great cheer and energy.”

Shannon said the U.S. Embassy also is helping communities in Brazil to connect with U.S. experts in sports event promotion and execution, and in helping communities benefit from using host stadiums and training facilities for other purposes after the games are over. The aim is “to create sporting events that capture communities and advance the communities’ broader goals,” he said.

In February, staff from the State Department’s diplomatic security bureau and the FBI hosted a “best practices session” during the Super Bowl in New Orleans to demonstrate how public and private-sector partners in the United States cooperate on major events. The session was held in cooperation with the National Football League, the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana, said Reta Jo Lewis, State Department special representative for global intergovernmental affairs.

She said the session is one example from “an uptick in visits by Brazilian officials to the United States,” particularly to states and cities that have hosted major events in all sports. The same goes for Americans in business. More are visiting Brazil looking for ways to get involved with infrastructure, transportation and telecommunications projects, and in security, ticketing and stadium management, Shannon said.

“We are committed to engaging with the Brazilians and committed to exploring how we could best create synergies and partnerships around the games,” Shannon said.

“Sports diplomacy is much bigger than sports,” he said.