Reception in honor of WNBA Legends Ruth Riley and Ebony Hoffman

As Prepared For Delivery | July 27, 2015 | Gaborone

Dumelang. What a privilege to be with you this evening to honor Botswana’s athletes, coaches, and sports professionals and welcome our wonderful WNBA players, coaches, and their families.

I would like to thank the Honorable Minister of Youth, Sport and Culture, Mr. Thapelo Olopeng. And all the people who made this extraordinary evening possible.

Please allow me to use that wonderfully forgiving phrase when there are far too many distinguished guests and friends to recognize properly: all protocols observed.

Today, our WNBA delegates held basketball skill building clinics with youth and with the Botswana Women’s National Basketball teams. Tomorrow, they will engage basketball players, coaches, and administrators in a roundtable on issues related to women and girls in sports. I cannot imagine a better group to be involved in these clinics and discussions.

This is my first reception honoring Botswana’s athletes, coaches, and sports professionals. From golf to basketball players, body builders to chess players, we have a wide range of sport professions represented.

Sports, like music and art, is a universal language. Sports connects people on a personal level through our common passions and values.

Athletes can inspire and, importantly, change us through our deeds on and off the field and court and pitch. There are many towering figures in American sport who changed the culture of my country for the better: Jackie Robinson, Althea Gibson, Muhammad Ali, the roll call of legends is long.

Arthur Ashe was a World Number One tennis player. He won three Grand Slam titles and was the first African American selected to the U.S. Davis Cup team. But Ashe once famously said, “I don’t want to be remembered for my tennis accomplishments.”

Because this man gave the world so much more. The game of tennis really just gave him a platform to speak about the issues he cared so much about. Arther Ashe was a social activist, a prominent supporter of the American civil rights movement, and a fierce foe of the apartheid government of South Africa. His hero was not tennis player or famous athlete. It was Nelson Mandela of whom he said, “Compared to Mandela’s sacrifice, my own life has been one almost of self-indulgence. When I think of him, my own political efforts seem puny.”

In the early 1980s, Ashe contracted HIV. He publically announced his illness and worked to educate others about HIV and AIDS before his death from AIDS-related pneumonia in 1993.

Ashe said, “True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.” What a role model, what an inspiration.

I know there are many inspirational leaders in the current generate of Batswana athletes. Here with us tonight and across the country. I have met many through the United States Government’s “sports diplomacy” programs. I have seen these athletes demonstrate and teach valuable life skills such as teamwork, leadership, problem-solving, self-esteem, and the value of hard work. Studies consistently show students who play sports stay in school longer, earn better grades, and have higher levels of motivation and self-esteem. We know sports matter in this country, in every country.

We know sports is an effective way to engage people on issues we care deeply about, youth engagement, empowerment of girls and women, equality and inclusion for people with disabilities, global health.

American Peace Corps Volunteers in Botswana are making change through Grassroots Soccer, a program of soccer and life skills for youth between the ages of 10 and 19. In addition to soccer skills, the program focuses on HIV education and prevention, covering topics like multiple concurrent partners and safe male circumcision. In 2014, Peace Corps Botswana conducted 16 Grass Roots Soccer program across the country for hundreds of young people.

Lastly, an unabashed “plug” for the Embassy’s Twitter page, which I re-launched today in honor of the visit of our esteemed envoys. Follow us @EmbassyGaborone.

I encourage you all to remember you can be positive agents of change like Arthur Ashe. You can be role models. You can be ambassador for this remarkable, blessed country you are so fortunate to represent and call home.

Arthur Ashe said “from what we get, we can make a living. What we give, we make a life.”

Give of yourself. Inspire a generation. Pula!