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Tuesday, July 28 2009

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FOR JACK Warner, 66, life has its memorable moments.

Even though he is engaged in an epic battle with the rank and file of the Opposition UNC, Warner yesterday took a break from the frenzy of local politics to engage in football diplomacy in an audience he had with none other than President of the United States Barack Obama.

Warner, the FIFA vice president, yesterday met with Obama at the White House Oval Office alongside FIFA president Sepp Blatter, FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke and the president of the US Soccer Federation Sunil Gulati.

The meeting saw the American president continue his efforts to lobby for the United States (US) to host the World Cup in either the year 2018 or 2022. But before business, there was pleasure.

The FIFA contingent was treated to an hour and a half tour of the White House.

“I saw every room,” Warner told Newsday yesterday.

“I saw where Obama eats, where he has his press conferences. I saw the hall with the portraits of all the past US presidents, I saw the Pink Room, the Green Room. I saw the Rose Garden, the balcony where he normally makes addresses, the new field that he has built for his daughters to play football.”

During the tour, Warner took the time to pose for photographs, sitting on an ornate plush red love-seat beneath a portrait of former US president Bill Clinton as he posed for one photo.

But after the tour it was down to brass tacks with a forty-minute meeting with the most powerful man in the world.

Warner, Blatter, Valcke as well as Gulati all discussed the US’ prospect of hosting a future World Cup.

“Obama asked for my support for the US hosting the 2018 or 2022 World Cup. He asked me to use my influence,” Warner said. “We also spoke about using football as a tool for education throughout the world and discussed the possibility of setting up a global fund for football education.”

The USA Today website also yesterday reported that Blatter issued a formal invitation for Obama to attend next year’s World Cup in South Africa.

Warner also noted that the American president was also firmly of the view that more attention needs to be paid to women’s football. “He said more people should pay attention to women’s football. With this country due to host the women’s Under-17 World Cup next year, I told him I will send him an invitation if his agenda allows it.”

Obama, Warner said, also joked that his daughters Malia, 11, and Sasha, eight, play football. “He laughingly said they would never become professionals though,” Warner told Newsday.

But Warner also used some of his time with the US president to discuss three local issues, one of which was crime.

“They were not a part of the agenda. I merely seized the opportunity to raise it, but I don’t want to go into the details,” he said.

The meeting of the football figureheads and the US president came in the wake of the US losing the Gold Cup final on their home turf to Mexico 5 goals to nil on Sunday. Warner said Obama was light-hearted about the defeat and even joked that some Latin American leaders–such as Brazil president Luiz Ignácio Lula da Silva – had “fatigued” him about the defeat.

Earlier this month, Lula had publicly teased Obama about the US’ defeat to Brazil in the Confederations Cup final in South Africa while both attended the G-8 Summit in Italy.

The Chaguanas West MP yesterday said Obama gave him a pair of gold, blue and silver cufflinks as a parting gift.

“I was extremely pleased. He gave me a pair of Barack Obama cufflinks which I will treasure until I die. They are the cufflinks for the US president. They came in an autographed blue case and have the seal of the US president.”

It was part of a gift exchange as the FIFA representatives gave Obama a football.

According to a report on the Fox News website yesterday afternoon, Blatter yesterday revealed that, “Mr Obama made two or three movements (in the Oval Office). Even used his head.”

But the President of the United States is “not yet ready” to enter the professional football league, the report quoted Blatter as saying. Blatter did not discuss the US’ chance of landing another World Cup (the US hosted the tournament last in 1994) but he did point out that the next World Cups are in Africa (South Africa next year) and South America (Brazil in 2014).

“North America would be a normal going around,” Blatter was quoted as saying by USA Today.

After his presidential encounter, Warner will this morning return to Trinidad to the glare of local politics. He will attend a committee meeting of the Chaguanas borough and this week faces the prospect of being expelled from the UNC alongside the “Ramjack” trio of UNC MPs.

But for a moment yesterday, it was all about football and the dream of using football to educate.

“It is impossible to win the race unless you venture to run, impossible to win the victory unless you dare to battle and it is impossible to know the true winner unless there is fair play,” Warner said in a press release issued yesterday.

“It is no secret that the richer countries can afford better training facilities, better coaches and sometimes better opportunities for their players. I am sure if the playing field were levelled things would be different.”

And as he continued to come under pressure for his role in the installation of the first female Mayor of Chaguanas Natasha Navas, Warner noted the role women have to play in the future of football.

“The future of football is feminine, we must invest in our women. They are pillars which hold any society up. If we are to progress we must invest in our women,” he said.

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