Obama schedules soccer summit in Soccer City

Is this Barack Obama‘s pitch of dreams? He attended primary school SDN Menteng 01 in central Jakarta from 1967–71. Before the Nov 08 election, the school held 15-minute silences to pray for Obama’s victory.

Cape Town | Barack Obama has put executive-branch muscle and street soccer cred behind the United States bid for the 2018 or 2022 World Cup finals. According to Sepp Blatter, the U.S. president will also log serious Air Force One time to attend 2010 Opening Ceremonies at Soccer City outside Johannesburg next June.

Obama lobbied Blatter in April with a letter to back the U.S. bid effort. “It is important to me personally,” Obama writes. “As a child, I played soccer on a dirt road in Jakarta, and the game brought the children of my neighborhood together. 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 White House as of Jun 22 had not confirmed the president’s trip, although press secretary Robert Gibbs, a former goalkeeper for North Carolina State University, said that “a small group of us have assembled in order to move the president in that direction.” Defending champion Italy or South Africa would play in the first match.

Obama, a West Ham supporter whose father was from Kenya, would be the first American president to attend a World Cup match abroad and would secure his administration’s reputation, by some distance, as the most football-friendly in history. Argentine generals guided former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger around Estadio Gigante de Arroyito in Rosario in 1978 when Argentina beat Peru 6–0 in the World Cup’s penultimate game. But Kissinger was a private citizen at the time.

Bill Clinton attended Opening Ceremonies in Chicago in 1994 and stuck around to watch Germany beat Bolivia 1–0. Those festivities were marred by unfortunate incidents—Oprah Winfrey falling off the dais and Diana Ross missing a pre-match penalty. After her miskick, the goal collapsed.

Little is known of Obama’s days as a street footballer. He retains knowledge of some Indonesian and a taste for meatball soup, nasi goreng and rambutan. Following a phone chat with Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in March, Yudhoyono’s spokesman reported that “when President [Yudhoyono] began with, ‘Apa kabar?’ [How are you?], Obama answered in Indonesian, ‘Baik-baik’ [I’m fine].”

He plays beach soccer with his family on Hawai’i holidays. Perhaps Obama’s South Africa trip, if it comes off, will help quell continued surprise abroad at North American interest in soccer. Laurine Platzky, a World Cup coordinator in Cape Town, said she had not expected Americans and Canadians to number among top ticket buyers for 2010. “Canada? Is that a big soccer country?” she asked.

A nation strong on symbols, South Africa might supply another—two sons of Africa, Obama and Nelson Mandela, surveying a green pitch near Soweto and singing a freedom song.

About the Author

John Turnbull founded The Global Game in 2003. He was lead editor for The Global Game: Writers on Soccer (University of Nebraska Press, 2008) and has also written on soccer for Afriche e Orienti (Bologna, Italy), the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the New York Times Goal blog, Soccer and Society, So Foot (Paris) and When Saturday Comes. His essay "Alone in the Woods: The Literary Landscape of Soccer's 'Last Defender' " in World Literature Today was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Also for World Literature Today he edited a special section on women's soccer, "World Cup/World Lit 2011," before the Women's World Cup in Germany. The section appeared in the May-June issue. His next project is a book on soccer and faith.

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