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Last Updated: Friday, 17 October, 2003, 11:54 GMT 12:54 UK
German puts Iraq back on the ball
Iraqi footballers (archive)
Stange wants help while he still has any players left
Iraqi football has neither nets, balls, league nor money and players are deserting in droves, but the coach of the national team has a vision.

The main thing is that passion for the game is there, German coach Bernd Stange told the BBC in Bahrain where the team was playing a rare foreign match.

All he asks for is a fraction of the reconstruction funds and just a little recognition from the US-led coalition.

Football, he argues, is the only source of entertainment for many Iraqis.

"There is nothing left after the war," said Stange, who is charged with taking the Iraqi team into qualifiers for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens and 2006 World Cup in Germany.

Bernd Stange. Picture: Robert Cianflone/ALLSPORT
The national football stadium, the heart of Iraqi football, is left by the Americans like a dustbin
Bernd Stange
"We have no goals, no nets, no competition, no premiership... no soccer balls. Everything is looted.

"The national football stadium, the heart of Iraqi football, is left by the Americans like a dustbin."

Stange, who became the Iraqi coach under Saddam Hussein's regime, agrees that there are greater priorities for post-war Iraq than football but says the game is still important for Iraqis' morale.

"There is no entertainment, there is no cinema, there is no theatre. People like soccer, they have a passion for this game," he told the BBC's World Today programme.

"We have not one role model for the youth in Iraq."

'Never a nice word'

Stange's players are all volunteers whom he is unable to pay.

It's so important after years of bad news to bring them good news and football is always good news
Bernd Stange

With no income in their home country, half of Iraq's national players have already left to play in Syria, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, said Stange.

To date, only world football's governing body Fifa and Germany have given Iraqi football any practical support, the coach said.

Iraqi football fans
Celebrating fans make coalition troops nervous, Stange says

Stange suggested that the occupying coalition appeared to take an interest in football matches only when fans celebrated by shooting in the air.

"Sometimes I would be happy," he said, "if someone in the coalition said 'Okay, boys you did a good job' or 'Come on, we have a party together or a barbecue' but nothing happens - not one word."

Asked if he ever felt like giving up, Stange said his players had faith in him and could not let them down.

"It's so important after years of bad news to bring them good news and football is always good news," he said.

Fifa announced earlier this week it was allocating hundreds of thousands of dollars to build a new headquarters and technical centre for the Iraqi national football association.

It is due to meet again shortly to discuss how to revive football there, said Fifa president Sepp Blatter.


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