Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Who's In Charge Of The Iraqi Soccer Team?

Why did the Iraqi government suddenly disband the Iraqi National Olympic Committee and its federations, including the Iraqi Football Association, just ahead of World Cup qualifiers against Australia? Crikey digs up the story I couldn't find:
The head of the IFA, Hussein Saeed, was a legendary player for his country. He also oversaw the running of football in Iraq under the brutal rein of Uday Hussein, son of Saddam. Uday was notorious for his ill treatment and brutalisation of Iraq’s sports stars, and whilst there’s no evidence of Saeed being complicit in this, there is an understandable disquiet about Saeed having worked for the previous regime.

Saeed has received support from FIFA boss Sepp Blatter as the only man he would work with in Iraq.

It begs an important question. In going into bat for his man in Baghdad, is Blatter using the threat of pulling the plug on the Socceroos match to send a warning to other governments not to interfere in the internal affairs of sporting federations – corrupt or otherwise – without fear of reprisal from FIFA or their mates at the IOC?
That embedded link leads to this post from the IraqSport blog:
After the end of the war, FIFA president Sepp Blatter declared that the only person he would work with in Iraq, would be Hussein Saeed, a former Baath party member...

Hussein Saeed has now held the presidency for nearly four years, and for most of it, he has triumphed in the face of adversity, getting the Iraqi Football League back up in a four or three group regional format since the end of the war, and seeing Iraq’s fairytale run in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens and the 2007 Asian Cup victory. However under his tenure, he has been dogged by rumours of wide spread corruption at the FA, and accusations that the state of the Iraq FA is not much better than it was under Uday, with many ‘hangers on’ not doing anything to help football in Iraq or develop it in anyway... His critics claim he has not stepped on Iraqi soil for two years spending most of his time at the FA’s makeshift headquarters in Amman and jetting off to Europe and the Gulf at the expense of the FA.
Perhaps because of Blatter's support, Saeed somehow "side stepped" Iraq's de-baathification laws under Paul Bremer. I'm not sure I agreed with Crikey's conclusions about Sepp Blatter's involvement, but who knows? FIFA is about as transparent as the Bush White House, and football is probably the most corrupt game on earth, if only because of the amount of players, interest and money.

From a political perspective, this story just highlights the lack of genuine transparency in the supposedly free and sovereign US state of Iraq. Iraq's football successes over the past few years may be rather ... er, surprising... but they have certainly been a source of joy and national pride for millions of sorely tested people. The Iraqi team may be bottom of their group in the World Cup qualifiers and have little chance of success against the mighty Socceroos, but they deserve a chance to at least play the game - as long as it's a level playing field for all!

For more insight into the state of Iraqi soccer, see this post from Dahr Jamail:
"Most of our stadiums and playing grounds have been converted into U.S. and Iraqi military bases," Waleed Khalid of the Ramadi Sports Club who fled to Damascus with his family told IPS...

In Fallujah a football stadium was turned into a graveyard through the April 2004 U.S. siege when people could not find any other place to bury their dead. According to doctors at Fallujah General Hospital IPS interviewed after that siege, 736 people were killed, more than 60 percent of them civilians. The football stadium is now known as the Fallujah Martyrs Graveyard.

The al-Sumood stadium in Fallujah was closed down for conversion into a private hospital, a general hospital and a market.
There are also problems with clerics banning the wearing of shorts, and mothers not wanting their children playing outside on dangerous streets.

UPDATE: The game is going ahead. FIFA 1, Corrupt Iraqi Puppets 0.