x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

UAE urges Iraq to play game

A top UAE Olympic official urges the Iraqi government to co-operate with the International Olympic Committee.

Sawara Mohammad, Iraq's only weightlifting competitor who was hoping to compete in this year's Beijing Olympics, trains at a gym in Arbil, north of Baghdad.
Sawara Mohammad, Iraq's only weightlifting competitor who was hoping to compete in this year's Beijing Olympics, trains at a gym in Arbil, north of Baghdad.

ABU DHABI // A top UAE Olympic official yesterday urged the Iraqi government to co-operate with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to ensure the country's participation in the Beijing Games. Iraqi officials yesterday met IOC officials in Geneva in a last- minute attempt to have a ban on Iraqi athletes lifted. The international sports body banned the athletes after the Iraqi government disbanded an existing national Olympic committee in May and appointed a new body chaired by the country's minister of sport.

Ibrahim Abdul Malik, the secretary-general of the UAE's National Olympic Committee, said: "We hope that our brothers study this issue carefully and set their national interests as a top priority." There could be a chance for the Iraqi team to participate in the Olympics if the Iraqi government co-operated with IOC, he said. Wednesday is Iraq's last chance to register its competitors for the Games. No decision from Geneva was available as The National went to press last night.

According to the BBC, the deadline meant Iraq would have a chance to send its discus thrower and sprinter to the Games. The rest of the team members - in archery, judo, rowing and weightlifting - have lost their chance as the deadline for those events has elapsed. "The Olympic Charter forbids political interference in the Olympic movement," the IOC said in a statement on Thursday. "It seems very unlikely that any Iraqi athlete will compete at the Beijing Olympic Games.

"The IOC would like to see Iraq's athletes in Beijing, and is disappointed they have been so ill-served by their own government's actions." Mr Malik said the UAE would not interfere in such an issue. It was, however, "a shame", he said. "The first who was harmed by this is the Iraqi athlete. "As Arab and Emirati athletes we feel sad for our Iraqi brothers. We were hoping that the problem would not reach the stage where they don't participate," said Mr Malik.

"The participation of any country in this grand event is victory in its own right, for the athletes and their people. "Being there is a source of pride ... raising the country's flag and having the whole world watching the event is priceless." The IOC said in its statement that the Iraqi government's move had undermined its plans to fund the Iraqi NOC, including the training of at least 50 athletes and coaches.

Some argued that the IOC's stance was exaggerated because it had allowed the Iraqi team to participate under the former regime, which had allegedly tortured Olympic players. This is second stand-off between the Iraqi government and an international sport regulatory body. The country was locked in a similar quarrel with Fifa when it dissolved the Iraqi Football Association. The ban was lifted three days later when the Iraqi government agreed to Fifa's demands.

Iraq's first major sporting event after the toppling of the late Saddam Hussein's regime was at the Athens Olympics in 2004. The country's football team lost the bronze medal by a single goal to the Italian team. @Email:mhabboush@thenational.ae * With agencies