Raad Hamoudi (right) was elected as the new president of the Iraqi National Olympic Committee. (Getty Images)
(ATR) Retired goalkeeper Raad Hamoudi is elected as the head of Iraq's new national Olympic committee, but question marks cloud what were supposed to be free and fair elections.
The IOC hoped the elections Saturday would end a turbulent year in the country's sporting history by bringing in new leadership to steer the country's sports movement forward without interference from the government.
But an Iraqi sports leader tells Around the Rings there was discrimination against the man standing for the position of secretary general and reports the exclusion of an elected executive who represented the areas south of the capital.
IOC President Jacques Rogge has expressed fresh concern over the 2006 abduction of the first leaders of the post-Saddam era NOCI. Several requests to the Iraqi government about the welfare of Ahmad Al Samarrai, the missing NOCI president, have gone unanswered.
The elections Saturday were the first to be held since the vote in 2004 that installed Al Samarrai and secretary general Amir Jabbar as NOCI leaders. Both were among dozens of NOC and sports leaders kidnapped at gunpoint during a meeting in Baghdad in July 2006. They and many others have not been heard from since.
Hamoudi, who led the Iraqi national soccer team to its only World Cup appearance in 1986 in Mexico, won 20 of 33 votes in an election overseen by the IOC and the Olympic Council of Asia observers. He heads Iraq's Police Sports Federation in Baghdad.
"My nomination in this election is an answer to the requirements that sport needs at this time. Sport needs reformation and good management, and we want to start a clear project for sport in Iraq," he said after his election.
Acknowledging that "difficult work lies ahead," he told reporters, "We have to work in an exceptional way, with more effort, in order that Iraqi sport can return to what it was."
Bashar Mustafa, president of the Iraqi Boxing Federation and interim president of the NOCI, became first vice president. Second vice president is Sami Saeid, secretary general of the Regional Olympic Committee of Kurdistan and member of the country's basketball federation. He represents the northern region of Iraq.
Jamal Al-Tayar, member of the Iraqi Handball Federation, was chosen to be third vice president. Olympian Maysa Hussain was the only female representative elected on to the NOCI.
But the election of Adel Fadhil, president of the Iraqi Fencing Federation, as secretary general is disputed by Hussein Al-ameedy, who was the interim secretary general of the NOCI.
The Iraqi sports leader tells ATR that the IOC and OCA may call for a re-election between the two because of "some discrimination against Al-ameedy by the elections committee."
He said the issue in the elections that have been delayed since November was that "the election committee did some manipulation and tried its best to get the people backed by the Minister on the EB."
He added that a representative of the Ministry of Higher Education also was present in an unconfirmed capacity.
There are also concerns over whether the new-look NOCI will be allowed to operate freely without government intervention.
"We still do not know what kind of relationship we will have between NOCI and the Ministry of Youth and Sport. I personally do not know how Hamoudi will act. We will have to wait and see through his actions during the coming few weeks," the Iraqi source said.
The IOC has yet to announce whether it is satisfied with the election results.
"This election was the result of a long process that should lead to the unity and autonomy of the Olympic and sports movement in Iraq. We are awaiting a full report from the observers but the initial reports are very encouraging," IOC spokeswoman Emmanuelle Moreau told ATR Monday.
The IOC suspended the Iraq NOC last June after the government sacked the committee leadership and brought in its own officials from the sports ministry in
a clear violation of the Olympic Charter.
The ban was lifted on the eve of the Beijing Games to allow Iraqi athletes to compete in the Olympics but only after a deal was struck with the government to establish an independent NOC by the end of November. The government failed to meet that original deadline and others set by the IOC until the April 4 elections were held.
Iraqi Sports Minister Jassim Mohammed Jaafar is said to be optimistic about the new NOCI and its ability to return Iraq to the sporting glories achieved in the 1970s before the Saddam Hussain era.
Baghdad-born Hamoudi could be the man to fulfill expectations. Captain of Iraq's national soccer team during the 1980s, he reportedly left Iraq in 1998 to gain a masters' degree in Austria and returned after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Hamoudi told AP that shortly after his return he was detained by U.S. forces for three days before being released.
One of his biggest challenges as chairman of the NOCI is the welfare of Iraqi athletes. Athletes and sports leaders have been among the victims of sectarian violence in Iraq over the last six years. Preparation of athletes for the Asian Martial Arts Games in Bangkok later this month and the first Asian Youth Games in Singapore in June are also priorities.Rogge on Al
Iraq NOC President Ahmad Al Samarrai and Secretary General Ammar Jabbar are still missing, three years after their kidnapping. (ATR) Samarrai
Despite being presumed dead following his abduction in July 2006, NOCI's President Ahmad Al Samarrai is still listed as a member of the IOC International Relations Commission.
Rogge insisted he should remain as a member in comments made to ATR at Sportaccord in Denver two weeks ago.
"Mr. Al Samarrai has not been officially declared dead and I hope that this is not the case. So why would I scrap him from the commission on the IOC? It makes no sense.
"As long as there is no official declaration on the death of Mr. Al Samarrai, we consider him alive."
On the NOCI election, he said, "I hope that will restore peace and harmony between the Olympic committee and the public authorities, and that the autonomy of the committee will be respected."
Since 2006, Rogge has come under pressure from Al Samarrai's wife to discover the fate of her husband. They met at the IOC's headquarters in Lausanne almost a year ago but there has been no further word about Al Samarrai since then.
Days before Sportaccord 2009, Ahmed Al Samarrai's son, Osama, accused the IOC of not being proactive enough in an impassioned letter addressed to Rogge.
"After our last meeting more than a year ago, we were led to believe that the IOC will be doing all it could in pressurizing the Iraqi government (who had a major role in this catastrophe) in coming out clean and telling us the fate of our loved ones who at one point were part of your family," he wrote.
"Now we have seen certain stands and public stances by both the IOC and the Iraqi government which questions these promises and the lack of integrity which has clouded this issue."
Rogge defended the IOC's stance at Sportaccord, telling ATR that he had sent three personal letters to the prime minister of Iraq "to do the utmost" to provide information about Al Samarrai and the other sports leaders abducted.
"We have asked the U.S. delegate to do everything he could to help us. In both cases it was to no avail, absolutely not related to their willingness to find a solution. Unfortunately, today Mr. Al-Samarrai is still missing," he said.With reporting from Mark Bisson.For general comments or questions, click here.Your best source of news about the Olympics is www.aroundtherings.com, for subscribers only.