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UN Personnel Join the World Cup Fever - 2002-06-07

The United Nations, as much of the world, is gripped by World Cup football fever. There is no question that the World Cup is a big event for the diplomatic community in New York. Pubs and restaurants in the U.N. area advertise live coverage of the matches. Diplomatic personnel, lower level, of course, can be seen gathered around huge television screens, as they sip on coffee, or pints of beer.

For U.N. staff and diplomats who feel duty-bound to stay in close proximity to their offices, a big screen has been installed in one of the U.N. conference rooms for convenient viewing.

Even the world's top-level diplomats are engaged. Following Security Council consultations Friday on the political situation in Afghanistan, Britain's chief envoy, Jeremy Greenstock, made his way to the microphones to pronounce himself on England's football victory over Argentina.

Britain won the Falklands War it fought with Argentina in 1982. But on the football field, the big battles have gone mostly Argentina's way. Take, for instance, Britain's humiliating defeat in a penalty shootout during the 1998 World Cup.

Ambassador Greenstock points out, however, it is not just Argentina that enjoys bringing the English down. "Everybody likes to beat the Brits. There is always an element of 'needle' in these things," he said. "But political revenge, no. This is purely sporting. And, from four years ago, yes, we needed to win this one."

Tidbits of football news even make their way into the daily press briefing. A U.N. spokeswoman reported a calm but tense atmosphere in the vicinity of the U.N. ceasefire line in divided Cyprus, as the Polish head of the peacekeeping force and his South Korean deputy watched their countries' teams play each other. The South Koreans stunned the Poles with their 2-0 victory.

Meanwhile, as troubled Afghanistan prepares for a big meeting starting Monday to choose a new government, the United Nations hopes to have three television monitors set up in public areas in Kabul by Sunday to allow the Afghans to watch the World Cup. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who was in Geneva on U.N. business, was briefed on the situation by his special advisor for sport and development.