- The Washington Times - Friday, June 9, 2006

International diplomacy is serious business. So is the World Cup. But when the two collide, the result is inevitable.

Party time.

The World Cup means soccer parties, viewings and other assorted events at several embassies of the 32 competing countries in the next month. Fittingly, the first and one of the largest was yesterday at Germany’s Embassy, the host nation of the World Cup, whose team also played the opening game of the tournament.

About 400 invited guests gathered in a flag-decked auditorium at the embassy in Northwest Washington to down pretzels and bratwurst (but no beer) and watch the Germans down Costa Rica 4-2. Among those present were the German Ambassador Klaus Scharioth and his Costa Rican counterpart, Tomas Duenas.

Before the game, both diplomats took shots on a goal set up outside the building. The goal was unattended, which is how it must have seemed to the German team in their victory.

“Whenever I’m on the phone to Germany, people are talking, thinking soccer,” Mr. Scharioth said. “Politics moves into a secondary role. It’s no longer the No. 1 topic. It’s an extreme pleasure to have the whole world as our guests.”

It is even more of a pleasure when your team wins.

That wasn’t the case for Mr. Duenas, who returned to his own embassy for a smaller viewing shortly after the game began. But he seemed to know that his team was overmatched.

“If we were able to draw with Germany, I would be the happiest person in the world,” Mr. Duenas said.

Meanwhile, at the Serbian Embassy, politics will be mitigated by sport. Montenegro declared its independence from Serbia two weeks ago, the final division of what used to be Yugoslavia. Yet the soccer team continues to be called Serbia-Montenegro because that’s the name under which it qualified.

Not only does this essentially create a division among players on the same team, it also creates a split among fans. But members of the diplomatic and administrative staffs from both countries, and their guests, will be welcome when the embassy shows tomorrow’s game against the Netherlands on a big screen at 9 a.m.

“We invited our friends from Montenegro because they don’t have an embassy,” said Jelena Cukic, the Serbian Embassy press counselor.

At the Korean Embassy cultural center, the Korus House, games featuring both Korea and the U.S. will be shown on a big-screen TV.

“Koreans love their soccer team, so hopefully they can come,” said Sue Jung, the embassy coordinator of cultural development.

The Argentine Embassy will show its country’s games on a big TV in its auditorium — small gatherings by invitation only.

“Then we’ll see,” said Marcello Cima, the minister of bilateral cooperation and cultural affairs. “If Argentina continues to play, then we’ll see what we can do.”

Even though Brazil is the big favorite to win the World Cup, the embassy is keeping a low profile. Murilo Gabrielli, head of the cultural and education office, said the building lacks the “proper space” to host anything on a large scale.

“Some of the Brazilian embassies abroad have a large auditorium, but we have a very small auditorium,” he said.

Some embassies are taking the parties elsewhere. Swedish employees will go to a downtown bar for today’s game against Trinidad and Tobago. Australians picked out an Arlington pub for the games.

But an effort to arrange a mass viewing failed at the Angolan Embassy.

“We’re tried to convince [Ambassador Josefina Pitra Diakite] to get a big-screen TV,” press counselor Evaristo Jose said.

Tomorrow, Angola plays Portugal — a game with a lot of intrigue because Angola was a Portuguese colony before winning its independence in 1975, and many Angolan soccer stars still play in Portuguese leagues.

“If we win, we’ll definitely try to have something at the embassy,” Mr. Jose said.

For many embassy employees, it will be business as usual, World Cup or no. At least that’s the intent.

“We will be working,” said Carlos Isunza, spokesman for the Mexican Embassy. “We will try to keep informed about our team.”

When asked earlier this week about Poland’s first game, which was lost 2-0 yesterday to Ecuador, embassy press counselor Marek Purowski said: “We will all be working. No excuses. That’s what we are here for, to work.” He insisted that those at the embassy wouldn’t watch the game “unless our parliament makes it a national holiday.”

That didn’t happen.

Officials from other embassies said that, although it is standard policy to observe a normal workday, some employees undoubtedly will sneak a peek at the action. Others made no pretense.

“When Argentina plays,” Mr. Cima said, “the embassy will stop.”

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