Ambassador Pamela Hamamoto: Sports for the Future She Deserves

Ambassador Hamamoto“Sports for The Future She Deserves”

WISE: Work in Sports Exhibition, Lausanne, Beaulieu

Remarks by Ambassador Pamela Hamamoto
U.S. Representative to the United Nations and Other International Organizations

[Note: WISE is an international convention for career development in sports. This yearly 2-day event gathers around 1’000 participants and 65+ exhibitors in Lausanne, Switzerland, the Olympic capital.]

Thursday, May 7, 2015

I am honored to have the opportunity to participate on this panel today and to discuss a topic that has always played an important role in my life…sports.  Participating in sports my entire life has clearly shaped who I am today and the path I chose to get here.

And I am humbled by the many talented athletes and sports enthusiasts who are here today, like Donna de Varona and many of you in the audience, who remain committed to improving opportunities in sports for women and girls around the world.  In the U.S., a law passed by Congress called Title IX  paved the way for female athletes, but of course there is still more work to be done.  I will talk more about Title IX in a minute.

I am particularly excited about the many opportunities for integrating sports diplomacy into a new initiative our US Mission here in Geneva recently launched called The Future She Deserves.  Through sports diplomacy, we can highlight the importance of providing equal opportunities for women and girls, and my colleague Trina Bolton will talk more about the U.S. Government’s Empowering Women & Girls Through Sports Initiative, which advances the rights and participation of women and girls around the world by using sports as a vehicle toward greater opportunity and inclusion.

But first, I’d like to take you back to my childhood, where I had the pleasure of growing up with three athletic brothers and countless hours of unstructured play time on afternoons and weekends engaged in all kinds of sports with the neighborhood kids, thinking at the time that it was all fun and games.  But in reality, at an early age, we were developing valuable skills and learning life lessons through participation in sports: teamwork, leadership, self-confidence, sportsmanship, negotiating skills, the value of hard work to name just a few.  All transferrable skills for both boys and girls, men and women.

In the early 1970s, only 1 in 27 high school girls, that is less than 4%, played sports.  And on average, universities spent only 2% of their athletic budgets on female athletes.  But when the U.S. Congress passed Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 things finally started to change.  Title IX states:

“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

 This legislation was transformative.  Even though the word “sports” did not appear in the original Title IX legislation, the law has become synonymous with increased opportunities for girls in athletics. Mariah Burton Nelson, a former professional athlete and now a well-known writer and professional speaker, wrote, “Sports for women represents autonomy, strength, pleasure, community, control, justice and power…It changes everything.”  It did for me, and for many others, including others in this room. Today, instead of 1 in 27 high school girls participating in sports, that number is closer to 1 in 3.

In the 1970s, I was the 1 out of 27 girls in high school, and I went on to participate in college sports and beyond.  And through both playing and coaching, I have seen first-hand the empowerment that comes from sports.  Improved self-confidence and decision making.  Building and maintaining relationships.  Leadership.  Resilience.  Teamwork.  Discipline. These skills developed through sports are transferable.  And they are empowering.

Recent studies confirmed what I have always felt to be true.  An Oppenheimer study found that 82% of women in executive level positions had played organized sports, and nearly half of women earning $75,000 or more identified themselves as athletes.  An Ernst & Young study found that 96% of women senior executives participated in sports at some level.  Women’s increased access to sports and their rise in the American professional ranks is certainly not coincidental.

EBay CEO Meg Whitman was on the lacrosse and squash teams at Princeton.  Mrs. Fields Cookies’ founder Debbi Fields was an avid equestrian.  AT&T’s CEO Betsy Bernard credits “ski racing on the edge of a wipeout since age 5 for her ability to see her job as more exhilarating than frightening.”  The studies show what you all know instinctively, that the life lessons we learn on the playing field are fundamental to success in all aspects of life.  And not surprising, sports also teach us how to fail, successfully.  To get back up.  To work harder. To work smarter. IBM’s vice president for global security solutions stated that sports taught her: “You don’t always win. You have to deal with disappointment and not lose sight of your goals.”  Further, participating in co-ed sports and sharing an interest in discussing sports with colleagues serve as a unifying force that helps forge a common language between men and women.  Much of my education and the majority of my career were spent in male dominated fields – engineering, computer programming and investment banking – and I believe much of my success was due to the fact that I could speak that common language.

While there is always room for further improvement in the United States, we have made great strides in this area in the past few decades.  Unfortunately, millions of women and girls in many parts of the world still do not have access to a fair playing field – literally and figuratively.  Simply providing sports fields for girls has incredible impacts:  By a 3-1 ratio, girls who play sports stay in school longer, get better grades, have higher self-esteem and earn on average 14% higher wages once out of school.  Additionally, girls who are engaged in athletic programs are more likely to benefit from health and social programs that are made available in their communities.

I’d like to highlight a new initiative – called The Future She Deserves – which our Mission recently launched here in Geneva. The overarching objective is to Protect and Empower Women and Girls through innovative partnerships and approaches and more effective collaboration across this unique multilateral platform we have here in Geneva.  The initiative is focused around four key pillars:

  1. To prevent and respond to gender based violence;
  2. To ensure adolescent girls’ have access to the full range of appropriate health services;
  3. To empower women and girls economically; and
  4. To promote leadership opportunities.

The Future She Deserves aims to dig deeper, understand where the blockages are inside international institutions and make the necessary changes so that women and girls can succeed.  I must say that while preparing for this event, I have come to realize the significant role sports diplomacy can play in achieving the goals of the Future She Deserves.  One of the best places to learn valuable skills and have access to valuable resources is on the playing field. Trina will elaborate further on sports diplomacy, but the truth is, aid and development programs around the world have only begun to scratch the surface on what sports can do for women and girls.

Six hundred million girls are growing up in developing countries today.  However, the majority of opportunities to participate in sport programs are still dominated by boys and men.  Well-designed sports programs for girls in developing countries can make all the difference in the world, instilling confidence and leadership skills that will make these girls an unstoppable force.

On that note, I want to bring these amazing women sitting here with me into the conversation.  Each of them in their own way is making a difference.  Each has created valuable entry points for women and girls in sports, and the results speak for themselves.  I hope you find their stories as inspirational as I do, and I hope like them, you will consider becoming a champion for empowering women and girls through sports.