Touting a future U.S. World Cup, it's Bill Clinton's excellent adventure

U.S. Midfielder Landon Donovan became the hero for Team USA, when he scored a dramatic last minute goal to lift the Americans 1-0 past Algeria and onto the second round of the 2010 World Cup.
By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 25, 2010

JOHANNESBURG -- He marveled at the way the U.S. soccer team never got discouraged but only redoubled its efforts after shot upon shot was denied by bad luck and Algeria's formidable goalkeeper.

He screamed so loud when Landon Donovan scored the late goal that kept the United States' World Cup dream alive that he had to drink hot tea with honey for an hour just to get his voice back.

And Thursday morning, he asked where he could buy a vuvuzela. The incessant buzz annoyed him when he watched the U.S. team's opener against England on TV. But after hearing the horns in person at Pretoria's Loftus Versfeld Stadium, he was intrigued by the rhythmic riffs that seem to spring up organically from the crowd -- as anyone who has ever played a saxophone would be.

Former president Bill Clinton had such an excellent outing at Wednesday's U.S-Algeria match that he rearranged his schedule so he'll be able to get to Rustenburg for Saturday's round-of-16 showdown against Ghana.

As honorary chairman of the committee that is working to bring the World Cup to the United States in 2018 or 2022, Clinton has taken on the role of chief soccer cheerleader in the high-stakes bid to win the votes of FIFA delegates from around the world.

In the process, he has become something of a star-struck fan -- not simply of the American squad but of the passion of the fans and the broader potential he sees in the game to bridge divides among nations.

After attending an early-morning reception with FIFA representatives to extol the merits of returning the World Cup to the United States, where it set attendance records in 1994, Clinton met with a small group of reporters to talk about why, as he put it, "I've fallen in love with soccer at my very advanced age."

It was a dizzying exposition.

"I think the big issue everywhere in the world today is there are some forces bringing us together and some forces tearing us apart," Clinton said. "And you want the ones that are bringing us together to triumph over the ones that are tearing us apart."

In its own way, he argued, soccer does just that -- providing a constructive, entertaining and "safe" means of working out some of the conflicts that invariably arise among competing nations and disparate cultures.

It's an idea he got from reading Franklin Foer's book, "How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization," six years ago.

Clinton said he didn't know anything about soccer until he moved to England as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford in 1968.

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