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Document Friday: World Cup Wagers

June 18, 2010

Argentina couldn't win the Falklands War, but it could win the World Cup.

As the outrage over Koman Coulibaly’s atrocious refereeing continues to mount, it’s now very clear that the World Cup is in full swing.  In addition to some great futbol, the World cup also serves as an important means to promote athletic nationalism and patriotism.  An earlier Document Friday, for example, highlighted how holding the 1978 Cup in Jorge Videla’s Argentina lent justification to his regime — and the estimated 22,000 deaths it was responsible for.  Don’t forget that Maradona’s “Hand of God” against England was just four years after the two countries fought the Falklands War.  In this Cup’s qualifier, Iranian players dared to wear green armbands to protest their country’s rulers.  Heck, during the qualifying round of the 1970 World Cup there was even a Futbol War between El Salvador and Honduras (which I’ll blog about next week.)

The World Cup is also a great venue for people from all countries to dress idiotically, practice their instruments (if vuvuzelas qualify as instruments), and mingle.  During what other event, after all, would Kim Jong-il allow thirty of his subjects to leave his country?  Of course, the North Korean fans in the stands aren’t actually Korean.  They’re reportedly Chinese actors dressed in North Korean garb.  And the Dear Leader keeps tabs on his coach by means of an invisible telephone which Kim Jong-il is said to have invented himself.  (Don’t believe me? Read the ESPN coach profile page!!)

But I digress.  The Wold Cup is also a great venue for foreign leaders to talk trash and make wagers with each other.

Here are a few of ’em:

The first is an email exchange between the US and UK Ambassadors:

From: Philip Breeden, US Embassy London
To: Martin Longden, British Embassy Washington DC
Subject: World Cup BetMr. Longden,

It has not escaped our attention that a certain sporting event is fast approaching, and that our respective nations will soon be meeting on the fields of South Africa. My Ambassador has asked me to see if your Ambassador might be interested in a small wager? We will understand if you decline, given the outcome of the last such encounter.

Sincerely, Philip Breeden, U.S. Embassy, London
________________________________

From: Martin Longden, British Embassy Washington DC
To: Philip Breeden, US Embassy London
Subject: Re: World Cup Bet

Mr. Breeden,

Even for such an exceptionally optimistic nation as the United States, I am struck by the confidence with which your Ambassador proposes this wager. It is testament, I assume, to the generosity of your great nation – since the British Ambassador does not anticipate paying out.

Your email does not specify the exact terms of the wager. May I suggest that, in the event of an England victory, the US Ambassador agrees to entertain the British Ambassador at a steak-house of his choosing in downtown DC? And in the event that the United States is able to engineer a fortuitous win over England, then my man will entertain yours at a London pub of his choosing. Loser pays.

Your reference to a previous sporting encounter between our two countries puzzles me. Since the history of English football is long and extensive, in contradistinction to US soccer, I regret that I cannot immediately recall the encounter to which you refer. No doubt it is remembered fondly on these shores; we have quite forgotten it, however.

Are you sure you want to do this?

Yours sincerely,

Martin Longden

British Embassy Washington DC
________________________________

From: Philip Breeden, US Embassy London
To: Martin Longden, British Embassy Washington DC
Subject: Re: World Cup BetMr. Longden ,

It is with great pleasure, and no small measure of anticipation, that the U.S. Ambassador accepts the terms of the wager. I am surprised, given the well known love of the British for history, that you have forgotten what happened the last time the “special relationship” was tested on the pitch. Of course, given the result, you are to be forgiven for having misplaced that particular episode in your memory banks. I refer of course to the victory of the U.S. over England in the 1950 World Cup.

It is true that our soccer (a fine English word we have kindly preserved for you) history is not as long and illustrious as yours. However, as your generals noted during WWII, we have a unique capability for quickly identifying and advancing talent.

Game on!

Sincerely, Philip Breeden
________________________________

From: Martin Longden, British Embassy Washington DC
To: Philip Breeden, US Embassy London
Subject: Re: World Cup Bet

Mr. Breeden,

Very well; it’s a bet!

Incidentally, you should know that the Ambassador takes his steak like American soccer victories – somewhat rare.

Sincerely,

Martin Longden

The sweet taste of victory? REUTERS/Molly Riley

The President got in on the action too. According to this 12 June 2010 White House press release:

The President and the Prime Minister agreed to disagree on the desired outcome of the June 12 U.S.-England World Cup soccer match; the President noted that the historical record of previous World Cup matches between the United States and England favors the United States and the President wagered the best lager against the best beer in America on an American win over England.

It wasn’t the President’s first beer bet.  He lost a case of Molson to Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper after the US Olympic Hockey team was defeated by Canada in the Olympic Finals.  I’m not even going to mention the “Beer Summit.”

And certainly don’t forget about Slovenia!  Iowa Senator Tom Harkin didn’t.  He bet Slovenian Ambassador Roman Kirn a bottle of Iowa’s Templeton rye whiskey that the US would win.  Kirn put up a bottle of Bagueri, a Slovenian wine.

The US tied both teams, and there’s no word yet on the state of the wagers.

I highly doubt any alcohol was bet on the upcoming US-Algeria game, as the Muslim country frowns upon spirits.   But I haven’t heard of any other friendly wagers between the two countries’ leaders.

Leave a comment if you know of any other World Cup wagers!!  I’m sure I missed a bunch.

Finally, I highly, highly recommend that you read this forged, but gut-bustingly-hilarious correspondence between the vertically-challenged French midget President Nicholas Sarkozy and the Irish “Department of Diplomatic Affairs” over the world cup qualifier.

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