You Got Imperialism In My Sports vs You Got Sports In My Imperialism!

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IN THE PAST MONTHS, the American print
media stories and the talking head punditocracy
have discussed the status of
sports in Iraq. The Iraqi National Soccer
Team played their first home games
since prior to the United States invasion.
Iraq shut out Palestine 3–0 in Irbil and
shutout Palestine again in Baghdad. Iraq received even
more positive news when they were told that the Kurdish
self-governing region of Irbil could begin hosting matches
in the Asian Football Federation. Prior to the July 2009
games, Iraq was forced to play their ‘home’ games in the
United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Jordan, Beirut and Oman
that wreaked havoc on training and maintaining a fully
professional schedule.
The media reports have been glowing dispatches
about the success of “the surge”, the US counterinsurgency
efforts and the Iraqis taking back control of their
country after Obama’s orders to ‘hand over control.’
However, this is not the first time that Iraqi sports have
been intertwined with US policy to benefit politicians
and imperialism.
In August 2004, George W. Bush attempted to use the
Iraqi National Soccer Team in electoral campaign advertisements.
In response to Bush’s capitalizing on the Iraqi
team making the Olympics, members of the team were
outspoken about being used to justify the violent imperialism
perpetrated by the United States. Midfielder
Salih Sadir stated bluntly, “Iraq as a team does not want
Mr. Bush to use us for his presidential campaign. He can
find another way to advertise himself.” An anonymous
player discussed the violence plaguing Iraq as a result of
the invasion, “How will [Bush] meet his God having
slaughtered so many men and women? He has committed
so many crimes.” Even the head coach of the team at
the time, Adnan Hamad publicly said, “The American
Army has killed so many people in Iraq. What is freedom
when I go to the stadium and there are shootings in
the road.”
The “shootings in the road” and “slaughter” did
eventually decrease. But, while many mainstream politicians
and corporate media outlets have attributed the
decreasing violence in Iraq to the “surge” and the US
counterinsurgency activities, there is an alternative and
bloodier theory coming from journalists like Patrick
Cockburn. Cockburn argues that much of the violence
came from sectarian warfare between Sunnis, Shias and
Kurds who utilized death squads to create ethnic
enclaves within Iraq. As Cockburn wrote in 2006: “It is
strange to hear George Bush and John Reid deny that a
civil war is going on, given that so many bodies—all
strangled, shot or hanged solely because of their religious
allegiance—are being discovered every day…
[L]ater, a group of children playing football in a field
noticed a powerful stench. Police opened up a pit
which contained the bodies of 27 men, probably all
Sunni, stripped to their underpants; they had all been
tortured and shot in the head… the Shia militias and
death squads slaughter Sunnis in tit-for-tat killings
every time a Shia is killed.” He continued in June 2009:
“The Iraqi government announces proudly that in May
2009 only 225 Iraqis died from war-related violence, a
lower figure than we have seen in any month for at least
four years. Of course this is far better than the 3,000
tortured bodies which used to turn up every month at
the height of sectarian war in 2006–7.”
Arguably, the rate of deaths of Iraqis in Iraq has dissipated
because the potential victims have already been
killed or have fled from the area to avoid being killed. Statistics
are somewhat sketchy but approximately 2.4 million
people are currently displaced within Iraq and another
2 million are living abroad to escape the violence.
The death squads that fomented ethnic violence in
Iraq also impacted another sport in Iraq, baseball. The
original Iraqi National Baseball team fell apart amidst the
bloodbath of sectarian violence. As Laith Hammoudi discussed
with some of the players, the fear of reprisal is still
apparent. “Bashar, 28, is the only non-student on the
team. The physical education teacher is captain and
asked that his last name not be used because he still fears
Sunni retaliation.”
The team had no cleats, three balls, one bat, no jerseys
and old gloves. After the story ran, there were many mainstream
media calls for aid, most notably from MSNBC’s
The Rachel Maddow Show which got a bucket of balls, a
rule book, donated fitted jerseys, cleats, bats, gloves and a
massive amount of support from the public offering assistance.
I wholeheartedly support the assistance to the Iraqi
National Baseball team and wish them the best in their
upcoming tournament in, of all places, another war torn
nation facing a US occupation—Afhganistan.
However, it is unfortunate that the public cannot be so
stirred to end a brutal, bloody occupation that has killed
countless thousand of Iraqis and cannot be so driven to
help provide the basics of life to Iraqis after we devastated
their country.
According to the most recent statistics, Iraq has 28% of
its children suffering from chronic malnutrition, homes
have limited access to electricity, only 37% have connections
to sewer systems and only 22% of the water plants
have been fixed to distribute potable water. Iraqis are in
dire need of these basics of life much more so than bats
and balls.
While I applaud the efforts of the Iraqi soccer and baseball
teams, it is important to remember that these athletes
are playing the game for the love of the sport. They should
not be utilized to further paternalistic justifications for
imperialism for any administration.

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