December 17, 2006
The qualification of the Iraqi football team for the final of the 15th Asian Games in Doha proves that sport still has a special place in the heart of men even in a country devastated by war.
Iraqi football players reached their first final in 24 years with a narrow 1-0 win over South Korea, one of the favorites. They played the host team, Qatar, at the Al-Saad Stadium - final score: 1 – 0 for Qatar - and took home the silver medal.
Even better than in Athens
In 2004, despite the difficult situation in their country, the Iraqi Olympic football team qualified for the Olympic tournament and even reached the semi-finals. They were finally beaten by Italy. On 13 August 2004, in the Olympic stadium in Athens, 25 Iraqi athletes paraded under the flag of their country.
Rogge’s plea for Iraqi people
While attending the General Assembly of the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) in Doha, IOC President Jacques Rogge made a plea for the release of more than 20 members of the National Olympic Committee of Iraq, saying : "We have reasons to be very happy ... we saw yesterday evening a stunning opening ceremony. We cannot forget, however, that some of our brothers are missing and cannot share this great joy. Allow me, on your behalf, to make a plea to all those who are involved. Please set them free. Let them return to their homes, let them return to their families, let them return to their national federations so they can continue to work for the youth and towards peace in their country." Today, it is exactly five months since hostages have been taken.
Ongoing IOC support
Due to the current instability in Iraq, the IOC, through Olympic Solidarity and in collaboration with the OCA, the European Olympic Committees (EOC) and the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), has taken a series of initiatives to help Iraqi sport. Through this collaboration, some 50 Iraqi athletes and coaches have been able to find adequate training opportunities within various NOCs for the Doha Asian Games and the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. Depending on the results at the Doha Asian Games and the Olympic qualification systems, this assistance will continue with the selection of certain athletes to receive Olympic scholarships for Beijing.