Accessibility links

Breaking News

8/26/03 - IRAQI SPORTS REBORN - 2003-08-27

Uday Hussein is no longer in charge of Iraqi sports. He and his brother Qusay, sons of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, were killed in July when resisting arrest by coalition troops. Ali Riyah, an Iraqi sports journalist once tortured by Saddam's regime, said: "It is as if a great weight has been lifted from us. No more terror in our players' eyes. No more returning home to pain and humiliation if our boys are defeated. Now we are free to play the game all Iraqis love as we would wish."

Uday was given control of Iraq's Olympic teams and youth sports in 1985. He pocketed money that was supposed to go to athletes and sports programs. He tortured and imprisoned athletes who lost competitions. Some were beaten while being made to crawl over freshly poured concrete. Others were forced to swim through sewage or run barefoot over broken glass.

Uday's terror failed to produce champions. Sharar Haydar was a soccer player tortured by Uday. "The Iraqi teams used to produce the champions of Asia in many sports," said Haydar. "They have declined since the arrival of Uday. Now we want to rebuild them with the help of the international community," he said.

The rebuilding has already begun. A new Iraqi Olympic Committee is being formed, purged of Baathist party thugs. In July, seven Iraqi archers competed in the Forty-second World Archery championships in New York. "It's a dream for me to participate," said Afrah Abas, one of the women competitors. Iraq's national soccer team will be competing in the Asian Cup qualifiers in October when Iraq meets Bahrain in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Since April, large quantities of sports equipment, including more than eighty-thousand soccer balls, have been distributed to Iraqi youth clubs and young athletes. Sports facilities and fields are being built or restored. But most important, the Iraqi people now have the freedom to decide what sports they will play and how they will play them. They are no longer playing for the glory of Saddam Hussein or some other tyrant. They are playing for themselves and their nation.