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Page last updated at 12:14 GMT, Thursday, 12 June 2008 13:14 UK

Iraqi athletes face Olympic ban

By Jim Muir
BBC News, Baghdad

Haider Nawzad and Hamza Hussein rowing on the River Tigris
Seven Iraqi athletes from five different sports have qualified for the Olympics
As if Iraq did not have enough troubles, it now faces a ban on its athletes taking part in the Beijing Olympics.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has imposed a provisional suspension on Iraq, accusing its government of political interference in the country's sporting affairs.

At the boathouse gymnasium on the banks of the Tigris in central Baghdad, Haider Nawzad and his rowing partner Hamza Hussein are doing their stretching exercises before taking their boat out on the river for a two-hour training session.

They are among just seven Iraqi athletes, from five different sports, who are qualified to take part in the Beijing Olympics.

We also hear bombs going off, sometimes quite close, and that doesn't help...
Haider Nawzad, rower
"It's not easy training here, because the river moves fast, and there are boats crossing all the time," says Mr Haider.

In addition to the two rowers, there are two sprinters, one archer, one weightlifter, and one judo competitor.

Mr Haider came back from Sweden to join Mr Hamza in intensive training for the games.

"We also hear bombs going off, sometimes quite close, and that doesn't help either," he says.

Haider Nawzad and Hamza Hussein training in gym
If the government doesn't rescind its decisions after the Lausanne meeting, there will be a complete and comprehensive suspension of all Iraqi sports at all levels
Hussein al-Ameedi, Iraqi Olympic Committee

But neither the rowers nor the other athletes know if they are going to be able to go to Beijing.

Their fate hinges on the outcome of a meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, yet to be arranged, at which the IOC will explain to an Iraqi government delegation how the Olympic movement works and why the Baghdad authorities must reverse their decision to take control of the Iraqi Olympic Committee.

The government stepped in last month, dismissed the committee, and set up a transitional body to run its affairs, headed by the minister for sport.

That was completely out of line with the Olympic charter, under which national committees are elected by sports federations in the country concerned.

Committee members abducted

The committee which the government dismissed was elected in 2004, in line with the Olympic movement's regulations.

Its chairman, Ahmad al-Samarra'i, and several other members were abducted by gunmen while attending a meeting in central Baghdad in July 2006.

They have not been seen since.

The government said it took the move because the committee was corrupt and had not been functioning properly.

Haider Nawzad training in gym
We are training and preparing ourselves, and then suddenly the government takes a decision that's so bad for us
Haider Nawzad, rower

"The decisions taken by the government were not well studied or prepared," said Hussein al-Ameedi, Secretary-General of the dismissed Iraqi Olympic Committee.

"They did not understand the Olympic charter and the rules of the IOC. The only solution is to return to the Olympic charter and the right way of doing things.

"If the government doesn't rescind its decisions after the Lausanne meeting, there will be a complete and comprehensive suspension of all Iraqi sports at all levels.

"I can't believe any national government, or any true Iraqi, could want to see that happen."

The dispute has left the Iraqi athletes in limbo.

There is not much they can do, except wait, hope, and keep up their training.

"Of course we're angry," says Haider Nawzad the oarsman.

"We are training and preparing ourselves, and then suddenly the government takes a decision that's so bad for us."

But he and the others will continue training, in the hope that a solution will be found and they can live their dream of competing in the Beijing games.



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29 May 08 |  Internationals
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27 May 08 |  Middle East

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