The Opinionist: How Sports Shaped Joe Biden

The U.S. President-elect's sporting past will help him leave his mark on the future of world sport, Michael Pirrie writes.

From a meeting with Sebastian Coe to the Invictus Games for wounded veterans, Michael Pirrie has observed the way U.S. President elect Joe Biden has found links to sport.

The OPINIONIST says Biden’s perspective will be welcomed by sports federations, governing bodies and the IOC. Whether battling the coronavirus pandemic or dealing with rumblings for a boycott against the 2022 Beijing Olympics, Biden will leave a mark on world sport Pirrie writes in his latest column.

"Sports were as natural to me as speaking was unnatural. And sports turned out to be my ticket to acceptance – and more," Joe Biden.

I was travelling with Seb Coe promoting the London 2012 Olympic Games when we crossed paths with Joe Biden, then vice president of the United States. In a warm exchange with Coe, Biden quipped he might be president if he had the British middle distance running legend’s fulsome head of hair.

As well as sharing presidential titles, Biden and Coe – now president of World Athletics -- share a deep belief in sport and its values of sport. Biden and Coe also share a similar consensus approach to politics and sport.

This helped Coe – who became a senior parliamentary figure after his stellar sporting career -- to convince the UK’s major political parties to bring the Olympic Games to London in 2012.

While never reaching Coe’s Olympic gold medal heights, sport was a powerful force in Biden’s formative years.

Biden was a key player in his undefeated senior year football season, where he learnt the power of working in a team operation and environment.

This would become a hallmark of his style of politics, which is to seek common ground and compromise.

Biden’s sport-inspired belief in himself and ability to overcome challenges would set the stage for his presidential aspirations.

"Sports were as natural to me as speaking was unnatural. … (S)ports turned out to be my ticket to acceptance," Biden also says in his memoir, referencing a stuttering disability that he believes sport helped overcome.

"I wasn’t easily intimidated in a game, so even when I stuttered, I was always the kid who said "‘give me the ball.’"

Speaking at the induction ceremony of his former coach into the Delaware Sports Hall of Fame in 2012, Biden recalled the enduring influence of sport and his former coach.

"(He) urged us to play the game the same way you lived your life, with passion and integrity.

"No matter how good you were, coach always stressed that you were a teammate first."

Biden is an internationalist by temperament so his election should be welcomed by IOC President Thomas Bach and the wider Olympic and international sporting community.

Despite rising tensions over China amongst the US and its allies on human rights issues, the future president is not likely to support calls for a boycott of the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games.

Biden understands the important diplomatic and multilateral role of sport in strengthening international allegiances. He knows that a China boycott could backfire on the 2028 LA Games.

As a junior United States Senator in 1980, Biden remarked that it was "outrageous" that the US government was threatening to invalidate the passports of any US Olympians who chose to ignore a boycott against the Moscow Olympics protesting the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan the year before.

But today the most important intersection between government and sport may be in the battle to control the coronavirus pandemic. Biden’s team is already planning on how it will attack the crisis when they take to the field January 20. Vaccine distribution and inoculation could be underway by then. If successful, Biden’s battle against COVID will not only save lives. The success of the U.S. in controlling the virus will have implications for sport, including the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics next July and August.

Controlling the COVID pandemic will help to enhance the confidence of athletes, international sports federations and host city communities in the planning and operation of major global sports events scheduled for the US in coming years.

These include some of the world’s biggest sporting spectacles such as the 2026 FIFA Football World Cup which America will co-host with Canada and Mexico, and the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Los Angeles in 2028.

The new president may be eager to support bids for international events in the U.S. One possibility: the Invictus Games for athletes and others injured in recent theatres of war.

Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, have been associated with the event, held in Orlando in 2016.

Will the patron and founder of the Invictus Games event, Prince Harry of England, be among the first foreign guests invited to the Biden White House?

Like the Invictus Games motto says, Biden remains unconquered; the captain of his soul and master of his fate.

And with his victory for the presidency of the U.S. about to become official, like Coe crossing the finish line first at the Olympics, Biden is about to experience the exhilaration of a gold medal performance.

Michael Pirrie is an international communications and campaign specialist who led London’s global media campaign against New York, Paris, Moscow and Madrid to host the Olympic Games in 2012, amongst other major events including the 2016 Invictus Games in Florida.

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