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D.C.'s International Workers Tune Into The World Cup

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In a city stocked with diplomats, international institutions and immigrants from across the globe, some employers try to adapt to their employees' World Cup viewing schedule.
(AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)
In a city stocked with diplomats, international institutions and immigrants from across the globe, some employers try to adapt to their employees' World Cup viewing schedule.

The Inter-American Development Bank in downtown D.C. tends to be fairly buttoned-down, but on a recent afternoon, Brazilian soccer jerseys were pulled over dress shirts and workers feasted on free bags of popcorn.

For close to two hours, Brazilian and Mexican workers at the bank cheered and jeered—in Spanish and Portuguese, of course—as their two countries squared off in the World Cup. Discussions about development loans were set aside as hundreds of the bank's employees crammed into a cafeteria, discussing Brazil's Neymar, Jr., Brazil's dynamic star; and Guillermo Ochoa, Mexico's impenetrable goalkeeper.

In a city stocked with diplomats, international institutions and immigrants from across the globe, employers wrestle with the realities of the World Cup every four years: How can they work around the reality that many employees will be distracted or absent altogether during their home country's games?

For the bank, which employs thousands of staff and consultants from across Latin America, the decision is simple: Let employees watch games in the cafeteria or conference rooms, provided they make up for lost work time by taking leave or staying late. For many who watched Brazil and Mexico battle to a draw, the chance to watch soccer on company time wasn't just a perk—it was also good for business.

"It's a very good way of talking to other people from other areas of the bank, of connecting in a different way and meeting people. I believe it's good for business," said Grace Figueroa, a bank employee who cheered for her home country, Brazil.

"I believe that this culture here keeps us excited about working here, because they know we're all Latinos and we all enjoy soccer. They can provide this environment for us," added Lucianne Juliani, another Brazilian employee.

Other international institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund offer their employees, which hail from across the world, similar opportunities to root for their teams during the day.

For some embassies, the World Cup is an opportunity to do what Washington does best: Lobby. For its opening game against reigning champions Spain, the Dutch embassy hosted a watch party in a House office building on Capitol Hill. Staffers were given orange shirts and hats and feasted on free ice cream and beer as Dutch diplomats worked the crowd.

"It's very simple: we want to make sure that everybody here on the Hill knows who the Netherlanders is," explained Peter Mollema, the embassy's deputy chief. He said the game offered a perfect chance to launch the embassy’s new lobbying campaign, Holland on the Hill.

"The Hill is important for us as a representative body. It makes policies that are important for the Netherlands and we think we need to be more present here on the Hill," Mollema said.

As the game started, Mollema expressed confidence in the Dutch squad's chances. His hopes weren't misplaced: Spain fell 5-1. (Full disclosure: This reporter is a Dutch citizen.)

World Cup fever only goes so far, though. D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson has said he won't reschedule a Thursday hearing on a proposed stadium for D.C. United, despite the fact that the hearing comes on the same day as the potentially decisive match between the U.S. and Germany. Mayor Vincent Gray, who supports the stadium, is making accommodations for soccer fans, though—they've been offered a chance to watch the game in his press briefing room.

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