From De Rohan to baseball, Malta and the U.S celebrate 243 years of friendship

From the appointment of the first U.S. Consul to Malta in 1796, to the power of sports diplomacy today, Malta and the United States have enjoyed many common interests

Jackie Robinson (left) broke baseball’s colour barrier and integrated professional baseball in 1947. Grandmaster de Rohan (right) asissted the new American state with access to Maltese ports in 1783
Jackie Robinson (left) broke baseball’s colour barrier and integrated professional baseball in 1947. Grandmaster de Rohan (right) asissted the new American state with access to Maltese ports in 1783

Today, we celebrate the 243rd Independence Day of the United States of America. During the War of Independence, 1,800 Maltese and Knights of the Order fought with George Washington’s forces to help obtain our freedom. At that time, Malta and the United States forged the historic bond that has endured through the centuries.

In 1783, in a gesture of gratitude from the young United States, Benjamin Franklin, in his capacity as U.S. Ambassador to France, presented America’s first medal Libertas Americana to Grand Master Emmanuel de Rohan.

Franklin sent the medal to Grandmaster de Rohan specifically to thank him for his support, accompanied by words saying, “I have the honor to address to Your Eminent Highness the medal which I have lately struck. It is an Homage of gratitude, my Lord, which is due to the interest you have taken in our cause; and we no less owe it to your virtues and to your eminent highness’ wise administration of government.” Franklin also asked that the Grandmaster allow American ships to come to Maltese ports.

In his response, de Rohan wrote, “This monument of American liberty has a distinguished place in my cabinet. Whenever chance or commerce shall lead any of your citizens or their vessels into the ports of my island, I shall receive them with the greatest welcome.”

With the appointment of the first U.S. Consul to Malta in 1796, American ships taking part in the Barbary Coast War (1801-1805) could anchor in Malta for fresh water and provisions.

Two days ago, we celebrated our Independence with His Excellency the President of Malta Dr. George Vella and Honourable Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Promotion Carmelo Abela, as well as many of our partners and friends during a reception at the U.S. Embassy. We are proud of our long history of successful diplomatic relations with Malta. For almost two hundred and fifty years, Malta and the United States have supported each other in times of trial and triumph.

This month we also celebrate the 230th anniversary of the establishment of the U.S. Department of State, the oldest cabinet Department in the United States government. And we celebrate two other enormous milestones in the history of U.S. sports and culture. The first is the 100th birthday of Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball’s colour barrier and integrated professional baseball in 1947. Robinson is a role model, not just for his skills but for his dignity and character, and his ability to handle racist prejudice during the years of segregation.

The second milestone is Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, which guaranteed equal athletic offerings at our universities for girls and women. Title IX created a revolution, and a few decades later, it is partly responsible for the sustained success of our Women’s National Soccer Team at this and previous World Cups. What Jackie Robinson and Title IX tell us is that it is impossible to create a winning team unless you empower all your players – that only through diversity can a team, organization, or country realizes its full potential.

So sports diplomacy has thus emerged as an integral part of efforts to build ever-strengthening relations between the United States and other nations. The U.S. Department of State’s Sports diplomacy programme uses the universal passion for sports as a way to transcend linguistic and sociocultural differences and bring people together. Participation in sports teaches leadership, teamwork, and communication skills that help young people succeed in all areas of their lives.

Sports diplomacy exchanges increase dialogue and cultural understanding between people around the world. The use of sports as a platform exposes international exchange participants to American culture while providing them with an opportunity to establish links with U.S. sports professionals and peers. In turn, Americans learn about other cultures and the challenges young people from other countries face today. Sports diplomacy exchanges have involved tens of thousands of people from more than 100 countries to do just this.

The theme of our Independence Day celebrations this year was Baseball – America’s National Pastime.

Baseball is the sport that evokes more nostalgia among Americans than any other. So many people play the game as children that it has become known as “the national pastime”.

And we will host our own sports envoys in the coming year here in Malta. Through sports workshops, games, and practice activities, the Sports Envoys will work with the Malta Special Olympics team to provide a platform that integrates people with disabilities into mainstream sports.

My colleagues and I are deeply proud of the strong friendship and partnership between the United States and Malta and of our achievements in many areas of common interest, such as regional security, human rights protection, bilateral commercial investment, innovation, and empowerment of women and minorities. We look forward to doing our share to build on this great history in the years to come. Happy July 4th!

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