Iraqi soccer team faces ban from World Cup play
Stars and Stripes May 28, 2008
The Iraqi national soccer team — a source of pride and rare cross-sectarian joy last year — risks being banned from the 2010 World Cup competition because of political infighting in Baghdad.
The move would be a blow to one of the few international success stories Iraq has had since the war began.
The team brought joy across Iraq last summer when it unexpectedly won the Asian Cup tournament with a mixed squad of Shiite, Sunnis and Kurds.
Officials of FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, have given Iraqi officials until Friday to reverse the government’s decision to dissolve its national Olympic Committee and other sports federations.
If Iraqi officials do not change course, FIFA officials said, the team would be banned from World Cup qualifying.
Jazair al-Sahlani, a spokesman for Iraq’s temporary National Olympic Committee, said Tuesday that the decision "is firm and will not be reconsidered," according to The Associated Press.
Earlier in the day, FIFA president Sepp Blatter said he was still hopeful a resolution would be reached.
"I’m not a betting man, but I try to be a prophet — I have a good feeling they will play in Brisbane," Blatter said at a news conference, referring to Iraq’s next scheduled qualifier, against Australia on Sunday.
"At this stage we are hopeful that the issue will be resolved and the game goes ahead."
Iraqi officials said they took the action to dissolve the Olympic Committee last week because the Iraqi Cabinet believed it was operating illegally, failed to hold new elections and was corrupt. Under Saddam Hussein’s reign, the Olympic Committee had infamously been run by his son Uday, who allegedly tortured, imprisoned and ordered the killings of failed athletes.
It was unclear Tuesday how the events would affect Iraq’s participation in this summer’s Olympic Games in Beijing.
Iraqi news reports on Tuesday speculated that the government’s move to dissolve the committee was politically motivated and the result of sectarian conflict. Sunni officials in the government accused Shiite counterparts of trying to run the committee and bring religion and politics into sport.
The coach of the Iraqi soccer team, Adnan Hamed, told the New York Times the suspension "crushed [the players] psychologically and changed their attitude."