World Cup fever hits UN as diplomats don football jerseys

Members of the UN Security Council, including Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia (with ball) and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres (in black), posing for a photo to mark the opening match of the World Cup on Thursday.
Members of the UN Security Council, including Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia (with ball) and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres (in black), posing for a photo to mark the opening match of the World Cup on Thursday.PHOTO: REUTERS

UNITED NATIONS • Diplomats from the world's most powerful nations set aside any differences they may have had and donned football jerseys to mark the opening match of the 2018 Fifa World Cup on Thursday.

Ambassadors of the 15 member states at the United Nations Security Council even had a kickabout in the famous chamber where they traded verbal blows over international crises, notably the poisoning of a former Russian spy on British soil and the war in Syria.

Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia punted the ball towards the back of the horseshoe table, as if taking a free kick, before a bit of back-and-forth with the Netherlands' permanent representative Karel van Oosterom as they waited for others to arrive on Thursday, reported Finnish ITV News.

Mr Nebenzia, the UN Security Council's rotating president for the month of June, said: "We are united. We must unite not only during the World Cup, but also in the future."

Chinese Ambassador Ma Zhaoxu, who was dressed in the red jersey of his country's national team, took the opportunity to show off his ball skills with a few tricks, and posed for the waiting photographers with Mr Nebenzia and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Xinhua news agency reported that Mr Guterres, a Portuguese national, stole the show by entering the chamber dressed in the black outfit of a referee, complete with a whistle.

The diplomats posed for a group photo in front of the press, and then turned their backs to reveal that their jerseys all featured the number 10. The number is used by past World Cup legends Pele and Diego Maradona and is the number of the Security Council's non-permanent members.

The five permanent members of the council are China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The moment of joviality came as the council met to discuss the ongoing conflict in Yemen and the deteriorating humanitarian and security situation in the west African nation of Mali.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 16, 2018, with the headline 'World Cup fever hits UN as diplomats don football jerseys'. Print Edition | Subscribe