US Congress kicks World Cup into touch

US Congress kicks World Cup into touch

WASHINGTON - Despite one of their own nearly becoming a pro football star, few US lawmakers will join the rest of humanity and drop everything to watch the World Cup.

American sports such as basketball, baseball and that other football - where players wear helmets and use their hands - dominate in a nation that has yet to embrace what Brazilians call "jogo bonito," the beautiful game.

"I have to admit I'm way behind on that," Senator Bob Casey told AFP.

Asked if there was Capitol Hill interest in the tournament, Senator Ron Johnson didn't miss a beat: "Not on my part." Senator Dick Durbin will watch, "as long as they don't have those zoyzooellas moaning in the background," he said, garbling the vuvuzela horns that South African supporters blew in 2010.

Even Florida's Senator Marco Rubio, unfazed about jeopardizing his standing with football-mad Hispanic constituents, said the World Cup was on the back burner for him until the basketball season ends.

"I'm probably following the NBA finals a little bit more closely right now," Rubio said.

For days his Miami Heat was locked in a multi-game championship battle with the San Antonio Spurs, but on Sunday the Spurs defeated the Heat to win the NBA title.

These comments help explain the "meh" reaction many in Congress have to football, still seen as an international game that American kids play before they grow up.

It would be politically foolhardy to ignore constituents' local sporting fanaticism. That means a Missouri congressman cheers for the St. Louis Cardinals, a Maryland senator follows the Super Bowl contender Baltimore Ravens.

Many lawmakers of course insisted they will watch the American World Cup matches, including Senator Kelly Ayotte.

"My nine-year-old is a football player and she's very excited," Ayotte said.

"But I haven't done any Senate Panini trades," she snickered, referring to the swappable World Cup stickers just beginning to catch on here.

In a casual poll of 20 senators, about a third exhibited genuine tournament interest.

That leaves Senator Chris Murphy - "My productivity is going to greatly decline" - and freshman Representative Eric Swalwell to carry the World Cup torch in Congress.

Swalwell, 33, played as a Division 1 goalkeeper for Campbell University.

"I thought I was much better than I probably was," Swalwell said.

Nevertheless, he was eyeing a possible stint at a second-tier club in Europe, but his dream was shattered when he broke both thumbs, forcing him into Plan B.

"The best athletes will play in the World Cup, the ones who get injured go to Congress," Swalwell quipped.

He and others play in charity matches, but for many lawmakers, that's as far as it goes with football.

"We're not there yet," he said.

Swalwell worries votes will be scheduled during Monday's US opener against Ghana at 6:00 pm (2200 GMT), the time Congress often has its first votes of the week.

"It better be on in the cloakroom," he said.

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