Soccerheads? | Bush says, ‘We’re beginning to understand’

Bild editor Diekmann shows President Bush the official World Cup ball in the Oval Office last week. “So, how does it work, Kai?” (Bild am Sonntag)

Washington | U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently embarked on a mission of soccer diplomacy (see Apr 4). Now President George Bush has shared his own views in an interview with German tabloid Bild am Sonntag, timed to the Washington visit of Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor.

The last question from Bild editor Kai Diekmann on May 5 concerned the coming World Cup finals. Diekmann asked about the tournament’s importance and Bush’s prediction on a victor. Wisely, the president declined to answer the second half, but he gave a personal account of his own relationship to the sport:

[M]ost Americans, up until recently, didn’t understand how big the World Cup is. And we’re beginning to understand. And the reason why is, a lot of us grew up not knowing anything about soccer, like me. I never saw soccer as a young boy. We didn’t play it where I was from. It just didn’t exist. I can’t even—I’m thinking about all the—between age six, when I can remember sports, and 12 or 13, I just never saw soccer being played.

Grahame Jones, soccer writer for the Los Angeles Times, does a blistering job deconstructing the president’s reply, which likely would mirror that of many from his generation. Jones observes that Bush remains blissfully ignorant of the rich soccer traditions of New Haven, Connecticut, where Bush the Younger was born, as well as the similarly rich heritage of Texas, where Bush was governor. “[I]t is not, as Bush told Bild am Sonntag, that ‘the sport just didn’t exist,’ ” Jones writes. “It is simply that, like so many other Americans brought up on a diet of football, baseball and basketball, he has opted to ignore it.”

While Bush said he was “confident that the German people will do a magnificent job of welcoming people from around the world,” lawmakers on Capitol Hill used Merkel’s visit to air fears that Germany would be too welcoming. Members of the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations on May 4 heard testimony from six advocates for victims of human trafficking. They focused on reports that between 30,000 and 60,000 women, primarily from Eastern Europe, would be exploited as sex workers during the monthlong tournament (view the webcast). Prostitution is legal in Germany, which authorities claim make it easier to control.

Juliette Engel, director of the MiraMed Institute in Moscow, said the charity had received more than 500 calls in the past few months

Page 1 of 3 | Next page