Gonzaga-Ecuador Exchange Connects Patrons Through Sport

A group of Gonzaga students and visitors from Ecuador gather in the Seattle Mariners' baseball stadium
A visit to the Mariners' stadium was on the agenda.

February 23, 2024
Sydney Fluker ('24)

Following a week spent in Ecuador over the summer, Gonzaga hosted 12 baseball players and coaches from Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela this fall for a series of programs centering sport for social change.

The Gonzaga-Ecuador exchange, sponsored by grants from the U.S. Department of State and the University of Montana Mansfield Center, allowed 12 individuals from Spokane and the Tri-Cities to spend a week traveling through Ecuador with the goal of connecting people through the power of sport. The delegation comprised of five baseball/softball coaches, two community leaders and five youth baseball/softball players.

After receiving a warm welcome and glowing hospitality throughout their time in Ecuador, associate professor of kinesiology and sport management Ryan Turcott made sure they reciprocated that same energy during GU’s turn playing host.

Turcott says Gonzaga’s hosting success is in part due to partnerships with professional athletic teams like the Seattle Mariners and Spokane Indians.

In Seattle, the Mariners rolled out the red carpet, bringing the students on a private tour of their stadium and front office building. In Spokane, the group partnered with the Spokane Sports Commission, Spokane Indians and Gonzaga baseball to show all sides of what working in professional athletics can look like and providing U.S. training techniques, club administration practices, leadership tutorials and more.

“We’re sharing cultures, we’re sharing ideas, we’re sharing strategies,” Turcott says.

“It’s a cross-cultural exchange … A big goal was making sure it’s reciprocal, that we’re learning from them and they’re learning from us, and I think that was a success. We dismantled the power dynamics to where it was an open forum, both in Ecuador and in the U.S.”

The exchange centered around the concept of sport diplomacy, which uses sport as a means to influence diplomatic, social and political relations.

Turcott says his time in Ecuador showed him firsthand the power of sport as a community-building tool and thinks the U.S. could benefit from taking a step back from the overly-competitive manner we think about and play sports.

According to Turcott, half of the Gonzaga students who went on the trip are now rethinking their career paths to incorporate more experiences that will allow them to use sport to connect with people in different countries and communities and engage with marginalized groups in an effort to spark social change.

“I think our students were hungry for [sport diplomacy],” Turcott says. “They didn’t really understand just how powerful this would be, and now that they’ve seen it, they want more, they’re asking me when we’re doing it again.”

The connections made through the exchanges haven’t faltered either, Turcott says, as their WhatsApp group message continues to be used and the students stay in contact with each other.

“Sport is a universal language,” Turcott says. “Even if you don’t speak Spanish or English, you can still connect through sport.”

Ben Ineson (’24), a sport and athletic administration major, says the experience changed his outlook on potential careers in the sport industry to include international opportunities.

“My favorite part about going to Ecuador was the opportunity to immerse myself in a new culture and connect with people through the sport that I love — baseball,” Ineson says. “The people who hosted us were so kind and patient. They are really proud of their culture and focused on helping us learn and have a positive experience … I appreciated being able to return the hospitality that they showed us when we were in their home country.”

Lexi Barlas, a sophomore studying sport management with a minor in finance, says the experience enhanced her time at GU by allowing her to see the universality of sport firsthand. She says she has also been able to apply and connect her experiences in Ecuador with her sport management coursework.

“As someone who had never been outside of the country prior, I had no clue what to expect,” Barlas says. “I was surprised with how kind and welcoming everyone in our group was … It was amazing to see that our entire group shared the love of the sport … It was a program full of love and laughter and an experience I would never trade or change anything about.”

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