Last week, the International Olympic Committee announced that it will bar Iraqi athletes from competing in this summer’s Olympic games in Beijing. In June, the Iraqi government chose to disband its National Olympic Committee (NOC) in violation of the IOC’s rules against government intervention, a move which some observers believe to be politically motivated. Under the reign of Saddam, the NOC was chaired by Hussein’s son Odai and had remained predominantly Sunni. In contrast, today’s Youth and Sports Ministry is a Shia stronghold, which may have led to sectarian tensions between the two groups.
The Iraqi government dissolved the NOC in May on the grounds that the committee did not have enough members to form a legal quorum. However, the NOC is missing four of its members due to a 2005 kidnapping, a crime that remains unsolved. The IOC first declared the ban in June, but granted an Iraqi request for appeal. Unfortunately, the government did not meet the IOC deadline, and only a few days remain before the prohibition becomes irreversible.
Basil Abdul-Mahdi of the Ministry of Youth and Sports has spoken out against the IOC decision, and says they will fight for Iraq’s participation in Beijing. While he was unsurprised by the ban, he has also mentioned the possibility of a suit to defend Iraq’s right to compete for gold. Five athletes from Iraq would have had the chance for Olympic glory; their places have now been handed out to others. The greatest tragedy may be that throughout the war, sports have served to unify the country, providing activities that Iraqis from all backgrounds could enjoy together. Hopefully a solution will be reached in time.
Source: The Wall Street Journal Law Blog