The Soccer Ball

Numerous authors have pointed out that giftgiving, either early in a relationship or to build a relationship, — and particularly in international relations—can serve as a signal that the giver is kind and benevolent, and hence deserving of one’s trust. An excellent example can be seen in the 2018 highly visible joint press conference between President Donald Trump and Russian Premier Vladimir Putin after the Helsinki summit.

Near the conclusion of the press conference, Putin presented the U.S. president with a soccer ball from the recently completed World Cup matches in Sochi, Russia.  Trump gratefully accepted the ball and tossed it to his family, promising that it would be given to his son, Barron. [1]

Under normal circumstances, such ‘gift giving’ would be seen as a simple trust gesture in the developing relationship between the United States and Russia. However, in this case, ‘trust but verify’ is probably a far more appropriate lesson. Given heightened suspicions about Russian spying on the U.S., the ball was immediately seized by U.S. Secret Service for thorough checking for electronic devices and other security concerns. Evidence of a microchip in the ball has been detected. Even given that inspection, the government is not sure what do to with the ball.

As some have noted, even a simple gift and ‘trust building gesture’ can be complicated.


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