“As a child, I played soccer on a dirt road in Jakarta, and the game brought the children of my neighborhood together,” the president wrote in a letter that was hand-delivered recently to Joseph S. Blatter, the president of soccer’s world governing body, known as FIFA. Obama was referring to the years from age 6 to 10 that he spent in Indonesia with his mother.
“As a father, I saw that same spirit of unity alive on the fields and sidelines of my own daughters’ soccer games in Chicago,” the president added.
Obama seems to understand the implications of the world’s favorite sport, in the same way he gave early interviews to Arabic newspapers, stopped off in Turkey on his first European trip and held the first Seder in the history of the White House.
“Soccer is truly the world’s sport, and the World Cup promotes camaraderie and friendly competition across the globe,” Obama added in the letter, a part of which was released to The New York Times by the United States Soccer Federation with permission from the White House.
I became hooked on soccer when the U.S. hosted the World Cup in 1994; as the dad of a 1 1/2-year old with our second child on the way that summer, I didn't have much energy at night for anything but TV, and the unlike all the subsequent World Cups in France, Japan/Korea and Germany, there were lots of games in prime time to fuel my addiction. Truth is there is little about world soccer now that I don't love, from the pageantry to the tense rhythms of a tight match, but the clincher is that I love rooting for an underdog, and the U.S. men's national team has been that over the years...big time. My big regret is that by becoming such a fan while the 1994 event was in progress, I didn't plan ahead and see a game in person. If Obama and U.S. soccer officials pull this off, I'll just have to hang in there for another nine years.
On the politics side, too, this move showcases the better angels of the Obama presidency so far. He's probably going to get poked on talk radio -- especially from the Michelle Bachmann black-helicopter types -- and maybe by some sports guys (although soccer bashing on stations like WIP seems to have died down a little the last couple of years) for doing this, about how soccer is un-American blah blah blah ...but he doesn't care. Wooing the world's gane back to America is a great PR move, another sign that the U.S. wants to be part of the global community. So go for it -- we have nil to lose.