John Kerry occasionally graced the Fenway Faithful with his presence in the lower box seats during his time as a United States senator from Massachusetts. Now that Kerry serves as secretary of state, he confesses that small talk with big wigs often focuses on soccer.
Kerry spoke to Sports Illustrated‘s Grant Wahl in Sao Paulo, Brazil at the World Cup. Like any good diplomat, the secretary of state opts for the foreign lingo over the American vernacular, dubbing a soccer field a “pitch,” a game a “match,” and even throwing in “football” instead of “soccer” a few times.
“During the World Cup, they’re all watching, they’re all engaged,” Kerry says of the world leaders he comes across. “I suppose if I went to Spain that might not be such a formal welcome. Leaders all over the world are up on it. When I’m in the Gulf Sates, in the Arab world, in South Asia, in Iraq, I mean, I’ve seen football fields, and I mean football/soccer pitches, in the strangest places in the world. Just pure dust. In Sudan there are these dirt pitches, kids out on the dirt playing as hard as if they were on a beautiful grass pitch and going at it and it’s just wonderful to watch. It’s universal. And the leaders bring it up frequently because they’re deeply invested, and some of the guys in that part of the world own some of the teams.”
Kerry’s no flip-flipper on the kicking sport. Long before taking up windsurfing and hunting, Kerry competed in soccer, hockey, and lacrosse in high school. “He wasn’t a very good athlete,” Stanley Resor, a classmate at St. Paul’s boys school and later a Columbia professor, told ESPN of Kerry in 2004. “I mean, he wasn’t a star athlete.” But Kerry played varsity soccer at Yale in the 1960s, and he scored a hat trick in a win over Harvard on November 19, 1965 to conclude his career on the field, er, I mean pitch.
In his SI interview, in which his passion for the game comes across, Kerry called soccer “the global game,” confessed that he takes a ball with him on his travels, and hoped to watch U.S.-Portugal on Sunday.
The secretary of state sees sports as “a way to communicate with people, one way or the other. Breaks down the barriers, proves commonality, takes away any of the sense of ‘We’re different’ or ‘You’re different’ and makes people the same with the same common passions. It’s a very strong language.”