Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Soccer Not War

Once more the common people in Iraq make a poignant political point about the national solidarity created by sports. In this case the victory of the Iraqi Soccer Team winning the Asian Cup this weekend unites the Iraqi people as I pointed out the other day. Proving once again that sports are an alternative to war and a great national unifier.

"Those heroes have shown the real Iraq. They have done something useful for the people as opposed to the politicians and lawmakers," said Sabah Shaiyal, a 43-year-old policeman in Baghdad's main Shiite district of Sadr City. "The players have made us proud. Once again our national team has shown that there is only one, united Iraq."

Spontaneous celebrations broke out in religiously mixed Baghdad as well as in Basra and the holy Shiite city of Najaf in the south and northern Kurdish towns like Arbil and Kirkuk.

Fans cried and danced in the streets, waving their shirts in the air and hugging.

Soldiers with their rifles slung over their shoulders danced with ordinary Iraqis in Baghdad while children, their faces painted in the Iraqi colours, held up pictures of their heroes.

While mainly comprised of Shiites, the team was captained by a Sunni Turkman from Kirkuk — goal-scoring hero Younis Mahmoud — and also contained Sunni Arab and Kurdish players in a broad representation of Iraqi society.

In Baghdad's Sadr City, a sprawling Shiite slum, women threw sweets to gathering fans and poured water over crowds in sweltering summer heat.

"A thousand congratulations for all Iraqis," another fan said.

Television presenters, draped in the red, white and black Iraqi flag, dissolved into tears. One Iraqiya television reporter was engulfed by a crowd in Baghdad and re-emerged on the shoulders of chanting fans.

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