President Bill Clinton sports a scarf promoting the United States’ bid to host the FIFA World Cup in 2018 or 2022 during a break Thursday with U.S. reporters in Johannesburg. (Photo by Doug Zimmerman, ISIphotos.com)
On June 24, Michael Lewis was one of several U.S. journalists who were selected to be part of a roundtable interview/discussion with President Clinton during the 2010 World Cup. This story originally was posted in BigAppleSoccer.com.
By Michael Lewis
JOHANNESBURG — Even a diplomat like President Clinton is allowed to lose his cool in public, especially when his favorite national team strikes for the winning goal in the 11th hour of a vital World Cup match.
Clinton admitted he did exactly that after Landon Donovan scored the winning goal to boost the U.S. over Algeria, 1-0, and into the second round of the competition on Wednesday night. Clinton was sitting with FIFA president Sepp Blatter and another soccer official.
“I apologized to them later,” Clinton said during a round-table discussion with American reporters Thursday. “I was very diplomatic until we scored an then I was up there screaming and yelling with everybody.
“I lost my voice. I had to come home and drink hot tea with honey for an hour.”
Asked about his reaction on the goal, Clinton replied, “My first instinct almost sounds political but when that sucker went in, thank God for [stoppage] time. I was sitting there thinking, oh my God, thank God.”
He admitted “that game was best argument for tie I ever saw. It was a magnificent game.”
Clinton, who visited the U.S. locker afterward, was impressed with the players’ attitude and atmosphere around the team.
“It was amazing,” he said. “They were really glad that they had gotten this far. They were proud of themselves for gelling as a team more as the World Cup has gone on. They were like nobody was high-fiving the equivalent of the grand slam home run. Nobody was singling anybody out. It was really interesting.”
Clinton was so stirred by the team’s performance that he plans to attend Saturday’s second-round game against Ghana in Rustenburg, U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati said.
The honorary chairman of the U.S. Bid Committee to host either 2018 or 2022 World Cup, Clinton said the team’s success hasn’t hurt the bid process.
He noted that the South African government had to spend money to build or upgrade stadiums, whereas the U.S. won’t have to.
“It’s good for us, actually because won’t have to spend a fortune to get ready for it,” Clinton said. “The Way this bid is organized, already organized venues that can right now seat the required number of people. And that are sufficiently diverse that we can follow through on our claim to get you a home team.”
Of course, the U.S. Bid Committee, led by Gulati, has to convince the FIFA Executive Committee that the U.S. is worthy of hosting another World Cup. The Americans played host to the competition in 1994, attracting a record 3.6 million fans.
“I think it would be good for America if we can do it,” Clinton said. “I think it would be good for soccer worldwide if we could do it. There’s one issue: are we worthy? Is our game good enough? And then there’s how do people feel about us as a country? Everything we do is in high-definition, whether it’s Arizona law, what our policy in Afghanistan is.”
Clinton was asked if he felt Argentina and Brazil think they were better than the U.S.
“I would have to say no,” he said.
“That’s OK. I think they believe we’re serious about it now. You could argue that when we did it in ’94.”
That was during Clinton’s presidency.
“It’s kind of like a novelty,” he said. “Yesterday Mr. Blatter … said to me, ‘You know, we had in U.S., the only place sold out every venue for every game. We really underestimated the depth and the legitimacy of the American enthusiasm for this sport.’ I think that’s kind of reasserting itself.”
Hosting the World Cup could help American foreign policy and the way the world looks at the country.
“As they’re finding out now with Obama, as I’ve found out, the world in general, may like America more or less at any given time given who president is or policies are,” Clinton said. “We’re going through this wrenching period of upheaval and change, and it will not be possible for any president to faithfully do his or her job and always be agreed with by
“What you want is for rest of world to believe we bear them no ill will, basically pulling for them and share their aspirations. We get them.
“The World Cup gives us a chance to do that. The World Cup gives us a chance to be embracing without seeming either hypocritical or having our people thinking we’re doing something we shouldn’t do. It’s a really important way to relate to everybody. So I think it would be good for us.”
As part of the William J. Clinton Foundation, the former president will visit Malawi to see the progress of humanitarian and education projects he launched some four years ago.
The former president admitted he has fallen for the vuvuzelas.
“God, I love them,” he said. “When first heard it, watched the first game, our first game, and I was nervous anyway. And it drove me nuts watching on TV. But have to tell you, . . . I have grown accustomed to it. What I want to know is when they do it all game long, they seem to get into patterns or rhythms.
“There doesn’t seem to be a conductor anywhere I swear they were playing together. I can’t go home without one of these, got to go get myself one of these.”
Clinton is considering getting one for some members of his family.
“If I buy one for my niece and nephews, I may never be spoken to again,” he quipped.
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