August 12, 2004


If only it had been Spain.

After Hussein, soccer thrives again (Dan Murphy, 11/20/03, The Christian Science Monitor)

Few athletes in modern history have played under the pressure faced by Iraq's national soccer team under Saddam Hussein. Brazil's footballers are showered with scorn if they fail to deliver a World Cup, and the Yankees brave the withering wrath of The Boss when they lose the World Series.

But nothing equaled having to answer to Iraq's former National Olympic Committee president, Uday Hussein, the son of Saddam who kept a jail and torture center at the national sport headquarters and often beat and humiliated athletes who performed poorly.

"It's no longer a secret: We played every match with the fear of punishment, an intense psychological pressure,'' says Mowafak Nuri, a defender for the national side and top Iraqi club Al Zawra, who retired last year. "The Olympic Committee chairman destroyed the performances of the national team."

After qualifying for the 1986 World Cup, the team went into a tailspin, defeated early in most Asian and Arab regional tournaments. A group that was once the pride of the Arab nations plummeted to 140th in the world in the mid-1990s. Iraq's fans despaired of ever returning to the pinnacle.

But Iraqi soccer has already begun a remarkable turnaround.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 12, 2004 3:58 PM
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