Monday, July 26, 2004

Sports and politics.

Iraqi football team qualified to the 2nd round in the Asian Football Championship after wining against Saudi Arabia 2-1 in their last match in the group. Uzbekistan qualified as the 1st in the group with 9 points followed by Iraq with 6 points while Turkmenistan and Saudi Arabia failed to qualify after scoring 1 point each.

This is the 2nd time we beat the Saudis since 1988. The 1st time was this year also when the Iraqi Olympic football team beat the Saudi to the Olympics in Athens.

The game was a difficult one and both teams had a chance to qualify and there was also the match between Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan to wait for in case Iraq-Saudi Arabia match ended in a draw, but our boys seemed determined not to leave anything to luck and started attacking to score the 1st goal in the 50th minute. After that our team retreated a bit which resulted in the Saudis scoring the equalizer only 4 minutes later, but our team kept fighting with high spirit until the 86th minute just 4 minutes before the end when they managed to score the 2nd goal and settled the issue without needing to wait for the result of the Uzbekistan-Turkmenistan match.

It’s worth mentioning that almost all the Chinese crowd in the Stadium were supporting Iraq, and so were most of the Arab commentators in most of the Arab channels even though the match was against another Arab team! I think it’s understandable as these guys look at Iraq as a victim and as people who need support due to the extraordinary situation they’re facing. However and although we thank them for their support, I must say that they support us for the wrong reason. When it comes to sport and despite the difficult situation in Iraq, the Iraqi team is the closest team to be living in normal healthy conditions among Arabs at least!

Before the liberation and under "normal conditions" Iraqis failed to achieve anything worth mentioning and there was a continuous deterioration in sport as years passed under the "wise leadership". This was the result of deterioration on all levels and what made things worse was Oday’s interference in sports in general and football in particular. He used to punish players severely when they lost a match, and actually the word is "torture" and not punishment. He used to interfere in the plan of each match and in who’s going to play and who’s not until the Iraqi team was no longer Iraqi and became Oday’s team.

I never cheered that team and I even felt relief and joy when they lost, as at least it made Oday upset, and also because I know that any win would’ve been used to serve their propaganda. It was not strange at all to watch songs supposed to cheer the Iraqi team cheering and glorifying mainly "the wise leadership". One of those songs included the exact phrase, "If it’s a game for them, then let them know it’s war for us". Saddam and his son wanted the Iraqi team to qualify to the Olympics in Atlanta badly just so they could instruct the players to show Saddam’s picture underneath their shirts when they score a goal. This actually happened in one of the international matches and you just have to imagine how shocked Iraqis were as they were celebrating a goal and at the same time forced to see Saddam’s ugly face shown as the reason and goal for the players’ efforts.

However I always felt sorry for the players who had to endure all that pain and humiliation for playing the game the love and for trying to honor their country’s name. This is only the story of the Iraqi team, as it happened in all the Arab countries. Just as an example is what happened to Ghada Shua’a, the Syrian Olympic gold medal winner in the Decathlon. When this girl was injured just before the world championship, I saw many Syrian sport analysts turning into political analysts accusing the poor girl of being a coward and even a traitor!!

Nowadays The Iraqi team is free from all that garbage. They are not playing for their masters as all the Arab athletes. They are playing for themselves and their country, as they are free now and no one will torture, humiliate or share their hard earned money -they make from playing outside Iraq- with them.

Most of my friends couldn’t stop supporting the Iraqi team at those times and were amazed of how I could cheer against them. After the war, they thought and because of my strong support for the coalition that I didn’t care much about Iraq! Today I went down to the cafeteria after work to watch the match with my colloquies. One of them asked me teasingly, " So who are you going to support today?" I replied in the same teasing manner, " Is this a question?? We’re playing against the Saudi’s! Your question would’ve been justified if we were playing against the American team though!"

Today I cheered the Iraqi team; my team; our team and I was so happy when they win but like the Chinese and Arab commentator, I felt sympathy, only it wasn’t for the Iraqi team. It was for the Saudi team and all the other Arab athletes who still play to satisfy their leaders. We were stronger today mainly because we are free.
Go Iraqis Go! For more victories and more celebrations!

-By Ali.


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