Iraqi officials were jubilant after the IOC revoked a ban on their participation in Beijing and allowed more athletes to compete.
Iraqis thrilled over lifting of Olympic ban
BAGHDAD // Iraqi athletes and officials were jubilant today after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) revoked a ban on their country's participation in the Beijing Olympics and allowed more athletes to compete than the initial two who had been given permission earlier in the day. The IOC decision to rescind its suspension of Iraq's Olympic association came late yesterday after last-minute talks during which an Iraqi government delegation pledged to hold free elections for its national Olympic committee under international observation. The International Rowing Federation confirmed today that the Iraq men's rowing double will also be allowed to take part in the Beijing games. IOC officials initially only allowed Iraq to send two track and field athletes to the Games, as the deadline for their entry into competitions was today. "We called the IOC and asked if we could have the rowers back and the answer just came through. We're very happy," said Matt Smith, the rowing federation's executive director. The IOC readmitted Iraq to the Olympics yesterday, six days after the deadline to enter athletes for the judo, rowing, archery and weightlifting competitions had passed. "We were overwhelmed with pleasure over the news," said Hamza Hussein Jebur, one of the two rowers who will compete at the games. Iraq has only one bronze medal since its first appearance at the Summer Olympics in 1948. But in a country where violence has claimed the lives of nearly 100 athletes, coaches and staff, the IOC's rescinding of the ban amounted to an invaluable gift. "Yesterday's decision is an upbeat one ... it brought Iraq back to the international sports gathering," said Dr Talib Faisal, head of the Iraqi Track and Field Association. "We are looking forward to take part in the Olympics." The IOC suspended Iraq in May citing political interference in the country's national Olympic committee, which the government had dissolved over allegations of corruption. "We hope that there will be no more black days for the Iraqi sports," said Samir Sadiq al-Moussawi, head of the Iraqi Judo Association. Pere Miro, head of the IOC's department for relations with national Olympic committees, said that Iraq's national Olympic committee will hold "fair elections" before the end of November. Until then, Iraq's Olympic organisation will be run by an interim committee proposed by its national sports federations and approved by the IOC, Mr Miro said.