Transnational Sport Talk: The Perks of Presidents
Published Friday, November 11, 2011
Presidents and prime ministers are finding time to express their passion for football with preferences for teams beyond loyalty to their national teams.
The relationship between politicians and football doesn’t stop at support for their country’s teams in international tournaments. This is considered a national duty for any president or prime minister.
Many heads of state have taken to expressing their passion for other professional football teams and star players. Some go as far as making their sporting views public through statements to the media, receiving football stars, or playing football from time to time like Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Bolivian President Evo Morales.
In a statement a few days ago, German Schalke club president Clemens Tonnies revealed that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is a hardcore fan of the German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer. Putin apparently does not support the transfer of Neuer from Schalke to Bayern Munich, because the Russian oil company Gazprom is among Schalke’s sponsors.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is a huge football fan and an admirer of the Argentinian legend Diego Armando Maradona. A few days ago, Chavez revealed that he is also a fan of the Argentinian star Juan Roman Riquelme.
But the Venezuelan president recently showed his admiration for Riquelme in a peculiar way. During a game that pitted Venezuela against Argentina, he sent his daughter Rosines to the stadium locker room. She placed a cap on the head of Argentinian reserve goalkeeper Agustin Ignacio Orion with “From Chavez to Riquelme” written on it. Rosines asked Orion to hand it over to his teammate.
In Spain, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero does not hesitate to express his support for his country’s Barcelona club. So much so, that during a meeting with British PM David Cameron and the football star Francesc Fabregas at the inauguration of a charitable organization in England, Zapatero asked the player if he is joining the Catalan club. Cameron, on the other hand, had said he hoped Fabregas would’nt leave London’s Arsenal club, which he did later.
In Italy, it is well known that PM Silvio Berlusconi is a huge football fan. His favorite club is Milan, which he has owned since the mid-1980’s. Recently, Berlusconi said he admired the Portuguese player Cristiano Ronaldo, star of Real Madrid, saying he hoped Ronaldo would someday wear a Rossoneri shirt.
Heads of state are known to discuss football among each other particularly during official gatherings. In a meeting that brought together Berlusconi, Putin, and the Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2009, the three leaders began their deliberations by talking about sports rather than politics.
“Tayyip, I send you my regards and hope that when you start speaking, you will congratulate me on Milan’s victory over Real Madrid yesterday,” Berlusconi told Erdogan.
Putin in turn thanked Erdogan for a goal scored by Turkish player Gokdeniz Karadeniz that sealed a victory for the Russian Rubin Kazan club against Barcelona.
“Barcelona is a highly respected club. In Russia there are many fans who love this team. But this time our team Rubin was stronger. I repeat once again, thanks to the efforts of a Turkish player,” Putin said.
The Argentinian star Diego Maradona’s story with presidents is a long one, he is admired by more than just a few state leaders. Maradona’s open political opposition to US foreign policy in addition to his football skills has gained him a number of fans among a certain group of world leaders.
Maradona is received like a king when he visits former Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Castro did not hesitate to send a him a private jet when Maradona needed drug addiction treatment in Cuba. Maradona valued the gesture so much that he credits his well-being to Castro, whom he describes as a living legend.
Maradona even has a tattoo of Castro on his left leg, as a sign of his close relationship with the Cuban leader.
Chavez too has is a big fan of Maradona and receives him at his presidential palace regularly. The personal relationship between the two is so strong that the Venezuelan president requested that Maradona support him in a referendum for a new presidential term.
Bolivian president Morales is also a huge fan of Maradona and is considered one of the Argentinian legend’s friends. His Iranian counterpart Ahmadinejad in turn sent a letter of thanks to Maradona for an autographed football jersey, and for his opposition to the US and his support for Iran. Ahmadinejad had on several occasions expressed his hope that Maradona train the Iranian team.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.