Imagine you live in Iraq. Now imagine there are no sports in Iraq. Now you have an idea about how bad life can be in that country.
Sports might not be the number one issue on the minds of Iraqis; just staying alive is probably of most concern. But the absence of sports, notably football, subtracts one of the few pleasures in life left for Iraqis and one of the few things unifying the country in recent years.
Survival is a serious business and would compare pettily with anything else, and that would include, in context, the triviality of sports. But as long as you’re alive, life goes on. And sports do play a part in our life, but perhaps for Iraqis, not for long. If things are not resolved soon, Iraq might not be given the chance to play in the 2010 World Cup and of more immediate impact, might not have a presence in this summer’s Olympic Games in Beijing.
The countdown to stripping down Iraqi sports began last week when Iraq’s government ordered the dissolution of the National Olympic Committee (NOC), arguing it was illegitimate because it could not reach a quorum and was involved in financial wrongdoing. The umbrella International Olympic Committee (IOC) denounced the order as serious interference in what is supposed to be an independent body and demanded the government respect the Iraqi committee’s autonomy. Then FIFA, the governing body of world soccer, jumped in and banned the Iraqi soccer federation from international play for a year unless the Olympic committee’s dissolution is rescinded. If it had standed, the ban would have kept Iraq’s national team out of qualifying matches for the 2010 World Cup, including a game against Australia scheduled for Sunday in Brisbane.
Apparently, under Olympic rules, all sports federations of all countries are supposed to be independent. The argument posed by the IOC and FIFA is that Baghdad’s actions were in strict breach of FIFA and IOC regulations outlawing political interference. The IOC has branded the Iraqi government’s move as serious interference and asked the Iraqi minister of youth and sports to respect the autonomy of the NOC and to re-establish its legitimate office bearer, while FIFA boss Sepp Blatter claims that by dissolving its NOC, Baghdad had automatically dissolved all its sports federations, including football, and that his organization and the IOC would only deal with elected national associations.
Should it come as any surprise that the feud within Iraq is politically motivated? The government accuses the NOC of corruption, and argues the 11-member Olympic committee was not legitimate because it could not reach a quorum after the kidnapping of four of their members and the resignation soon after of two others. Supporters of the group charge that officials really want to control the independent sports groups so they can install their own people in lucrative and prestigious posts.
No one was quite sure how all this would pan out. Blatter had said that Iraq will see the light before its qualifying campaign for 2010 begins.
Surely the IOC should be amenable. Rules might have been broken but for how long are the people of Iraq supposed to pay for the folly and foibles of their government? Rules should not be bent or bought but there ought to be a give-and-take on this before a final decision is taken.
Last July, Iraqis erupted with joy when the national soccer team – the Lions of the Two Rivers – won the Asia Cup. Sunnis, Shias and Kurds made up the team and the team’s Sunni, Shia and Kurd supporters poured into dangerous streets to celebrate, shooting guns in the air – and maybe being shot at or bombed – and talking about a common Iraqi pride. The win was a genuine moment of national honor that crossed sectarian divisions.
Iraqis were close to being robbed of one of their few diversions and joys, one that makes them feel connected with themselves and the outside world.
You’d think Iraqis had enough problems, but it seems there’s a bit of room left for more sorrow.