In the Brazilian city of Natal in 2014, USA goalkeeper Tim Howard got to his feet to greet a visitor to the dressing room.
“Great to see you again,” said the Everton man, having just inspired Team America to a World Cup win over Ghana. “Better today,” quipped Joe Biden – they’d previously met four years earlier in South Africa, where Ghana knocked the USA out.
Now, Howard’s old buddy is ready to become president, and it’s hoped that football will get promoted, too. Biden has been dubbed America’s ‘soccer ambassador’ – as VP he attended MLS games and led a delegation to the 2015 Women’s World Cup Final, alongside former Coventry midfielder Cobi Jones. Who knew his life was like an episode of Sky Sports’ Premier League Years?
Biden has also picked a football-friendly VP: Kamala Harris’ earliest activism was aged 13, campaigning to overturn a ban on kids playing soccer on a lawn near her home in Montreal. Even the duo’s election fundraising merch paid homage to the beautiful game.
“They marketed a Biden/Harris soccer scarf,” explains Laurent Dubois, who runs the Soccer Politics forum at Duke University. Biden’s win brightens prospects for the 2026 World Cup – under Donald Trump, relations were frayed with co-hosts Canada and particularly Mexico. Trump dreamed of defensive walls, but “this administration will be keen to use the finals as the diplomatic opportunity it is,” says Dubois.
Biden was a late soccer convert, after his two sons started playing. Previous presidents were less eager; Richard Nixon painfully so. Visiting Ecuador, he was cajoled into a kickabout, then panicked, tried a header and got smacked on the top of his bonce.
As soccer’s popularity grows, though, so does its influence. ‘Soccer moms’ were key voters from the ’96 election onwards, before the US Women’s players became superstars. Presidents do love pictures with winners.
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It was Biden and Harris who bonded with the 2019 world champions, however. Megan Rapinoe accepted an invite from Harris to visit the Senate, after leading the team’s anti-Trump boycott. Biden then called on US Soccer to pay women equally, or “when I’m president, you can go elsewhere for funding”. US Soccer have since reached a settlement with the women’s side over working conditions. Did Biden assist? “It was a helpful message,” suggests Dubois.
Biden will be a World Cup cheerleader again, even if the 78-year-old could leave office prior to 2026. Should Harris succeed him, presiding over the finals would complete an epic career arc – there’s even a new kids’ book, Kamala In Canada, inspired by her girlhood campaigning. The opening ceremony speech writes itself.
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