SANDHURST, South Africa — Former President Bill Clinton liked what he saw from the U.S. World Cup team so much, he's staying for the next game.
Clinton said Thursday that he changed his schedule so he can attend the Americans' game against Ghana on Saturday in Rustenburg. The honorary chairman of the U.S. bid to host the World Cup in either 2018 or 2022, Clinton was in the stands for Wednesday's thrilling 1-0 victory against Algeria that sent the United States on to the round of 16. He then spent more than an hour in the locker room celebrating with the team.
"I lost my voice yesterday. I had to come home and drink hot tea with honey for an hour," Clinton said. "I was very diplomatic until we scored, and then I was up there screaming and yelling with everybody."
Clinton was meeting with former South African president Nelson Mandela later Thursday, and traveling to Malawi on Friday to visit health initiatives and economic development projects sponsored by his Clinton Foundation. He also made a trip to Tanzania to check on foundation projects there.
But his primary purpose in Africa is to promote the U.S. World Cup bid to FIFA's 24-member executive committee, which will select the 2018 and 2022 hosts in December. Clinton sat with FIFA president Sepp Blatter during Wednesday's game, met with seven members of the executive committee Thursday and will meet with others at a reception Sunday in Cape Town.
"I think it would be good for America, really good for America, if we can do it," Clinton said. "And I think it would be good for soccer worldwide if we could do it."
Clinton first became interested in soccer when he went to Oxford in 1968, and he was president when the United States hosted both the World Cup in 1994 and the women's World Cup in 1999. (He still counts Mia Hamm as a friend, and said she e-mailed him after Wednesday's game.)
It's the game's unifying power that captivates him most, however. He mentioned Franklin Foer's "How Soccer Explains the World" several times Thursday, and said finding common ground – no matter where it is – is increasingly important in an interdependent world.
"We're in this vast contest between the forces of integration and the forces of disintegration, the positive and negative forces of our interdependence. And 'Stop the world, I want to get off,' is not an option. You can't stop it. you can't get off. Therefore, you've got to hope the positive forces win," Clinton said.
"This whole business about the morphing of soccer away from a legal way of (settling scores between different ethnic groups) into a way the world can be constructively competitive, and very diverse but still united, it's very important," he added. "The potential of it, it's more than just something you say at a speech. It's significant."
Clinton had met the players at a White House send-off on May 26, and went down to the locker room thinking he would simply congratulate them. He ended up joining their party.
"They said, 'Hang around until we finish all this and drink a beer with us. Nobody ever does that.' And so I said 'OK,'" Clinton said. "... In the locker room, all they talked about is how they played as a team. The team wasn't going to give up. The team. I was really impressed with that. I found them immensely impressive."