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  • Olympic Chiefs Urge Iraq Government to Reinstate NOC


    (ATR) The Olympic Council of Asia tells Around the Rings the Iraq government's suspension of the country's national Olympic committee and dissolution of its sports federations is "totally unacceptable".

    "We do not accept what the sports minister has done in Iraq, as the NOC and sports federations are legitimate," says OCA director general Husain Al-Musallam.

    "We are asking them to immediately reinstate the NOC and all sports federations. We are giving them a week," he says, acknowledging that the dispute could jeopardize Iraq's participation in the Beijing Olympics.

    The OCA has made its demands clear in a letter to the Iraq government, he adds.

    Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh was quoted by news agencies saying that the NOC was not legitimate because it lacked a quorum and had failed to hold new elections.
    Iraq NOC president Bashar Mustafa condemns the decision to dissolve the committee. (ATR)  

    The government has appointed a temporary committee headed by the minister of youth and sports, saying it would hold elections for a new Olympic Committee within three months.

    But Al-Musallam says elections are not due to be held until after the Summer Games.

    Bashar Mustafa, head of the NOC, attacked the ministry and accused it of "blatant interference to control and undermine the work of the Iraqi Olympic Committee".

    "The statement to dissolve the Iraqi Olympic Committee is not in the people's interests, not in the interests of the state at this time and not in the interests of Iraqi sports," he was quoted by news agencies.

    "We received a notification from the International Olympic Committee...they will suspend the membership of Iraq if this decision is implemented, so we cannot participate in Beijing," he said.

    The IOC moved quickly to support the NOC. In a letter to the Iraqi Minister of Youth and Sports, it urged the government to respect the NOC's autonomy and re-establish its legitimate office bearers.

    "We are very concerned about the situation and have expressed our support for the elected members of the NOC," the IOC said in a statement.

    "The matter will be brought to the attention of the next IOC Executive Board in Athens."

    The IOC Executive Board convenes at the SportAccord meeting in Athens June 4 to 6.

    Iraq is planning to send a small group of athletes to the Beijing Olympics; at least seven Iraqi athletes have booked their places at the Games.

    But their participation is now in doubt unless the Iraq government rescinds its decision to disband the NOC and its federations, which also have
    The Iraq national soccer team -- a group of Sunnis, Shias and Kurds -- briefly united their country with their Asian Cup championship win in July 2007. (Getty Images)  
    reacted angrily.

    The Asian Football Confederation waded into the dispute Thursday. AFC president Mohamed bin Hammam demanded that the government revoke its order to dissolve the Iraq Football Association.

    "The Iraq Football Association and its executive committee are democratically elected bodies and only its congress has the right to dissolve them," Bin Hammam said in a statement.
    Bin Hammam insisted Iraq's soccer chiefs had done "excellent work" in winning the Asian Cup last year, overcoming cash shortages and the ongoing threat of violence.

    The government's suspension of the NOC and federations are the latest troubles to hit Iraqi sport.

    In April, the assistant secretary general of the NOC became the latest casualty of violence against sport in the country.

    Dr. Ra'ad Jaber died in hospital after being treated for gunshot wounds from an attack in central Baghdad during an outburst of sectarian violence.

    More than 1,000 athletes and sports officials are believed to have died in the violence that has gripped Iraq since 2004.

    Still officially missing are Ahmed Al Samarrai, the first president of the NOC since it was re-formed in 2004, and Ammar Jabbar, the secretary general. Both were kidnapped at gunpoint along with some two dozen other sport officials at a meeting in July 2006. A few were released but others have not been seen since.

    With reporting from Mark Bisson.

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