Soccer in Iraq has become a symbol of pride for the country.
For many countries, soccer is a team sport supported by its fans and the media with the goal of winning its league championship. The highly skilled players even qualify for the national team. In Iraq, the sport has become more than a pastime; it represents the pride of a nation torn by war and oppressive leaders. According to The New York Times, “In fractious Iraq, soccer has always been one thing that traversed its sectarian and political divides.”
Iraq was often overlooked by the international soccer community and press, but Iraqi soccer interests peaked by the 1980s. With the success of the national team qualifying for the 1986 World Cup as well as the Olympics in Moscow, Los Angeles, Seoul and Athens, its qualifications proved that it could compete on the international level.
Sport During Oppression
Saddam Hussein appointed his son, Uday Hussein, to be in charge of the Iraqi Olympic Committee and the national soccer team. Under Uday’s leadership, psychological pressure and physical punishment were put upon the team for motivation as well for its losses. For example, players were generally beaten after losses, and missed practices resulted in prison time and bodily harm. After the war that deposed Saddam Hussein, the team was forced into exile after extremists began murdering athletes.
During soccer matches, Iraqi team players are praised with song and flowers.
Soccer has become a symbol of pride for the country of Iraq. Thousands of fans consistently fill Al-Shaab Stadium, the home field of the Iraqi National Team in Baghdad. During the games, Iraqi flags are waved, songs are sung and members of the Iraqi soccer team are draped with flowers. According to the Los Angeles Times, “Iraqis have one thing on their mind: victory and love of the game. The crowd was chanting: With our blood and soul, we will sacrifice for Iraq.”
Iraqi National Team
The Iraqi national football team, also called the Lions of Mesopotamia, competes in the Asian Football Confederation. They are the 2009 United Arab Emirates International Cup Champions as well as the 2007 Asian Cup winners. The team received international attention at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games after losing to Italy in the Bronze Medal match. Their home field, Al-Shaab Stadium, located in Baghdad, was built in 1966 and has a seating capacity of 45,000.
Sporting events have created temporary peace during hostile times.
Sporting events have created moments of temporary peace in times of war. For example, on Christmas day in 1914, the German and British soldiers played a soccer match in No Man’s Land during a temporary holiday truce. Matches in Iraq are one of the few types of public gatherings that have rarely become a target for suicide bombers. In an interview with Time magazine, Shi’ite education ministry employee Abdul-Rahman Abdul-Hassan stated, “None of our politicians could bring us under this flag like our national football team did. I wish that politicians could take a lesson from our team, which is made up of Sunnis, Shi’ites and Kurds who worked together regardless of their backgrounds and won.”