BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq has urged the International Olympic Committee to overturn its ban on the country’s participation in the Beijing Games and hopes to meet with the body soon, Iraq’s sports minister said on Saturday.
Iraqi athletes said they were devastated by news on Thursday that the IOC had confirmed the country’s disqualification from the Olympics for it what it considered “political interference” in Iraq’s National Olympic Committee (NOC).
“The Iraqi government is attempting to convince the IOC to change its stand regarding the suspension ... The prime minister has an initiative and hopefully very soon there will be a meeting with the IOC,” Iraq’s Youth and Sports Minister Jasem Mohammed Jaafar told Reuters.
Iraq’s government said it disbanded the NOC in May because it lacked a quorum and had failed to hold new elections. The IOC gave Iraq a deadline to reinstate the body but the government has not backed down.
Iraq’s rowers blasted officials in Baghdad for the ban, but said they would continue to “train to the last breath” in the hope it would be overturned.
“I blame the Iraqi government. It interfered in the NOC, and it’s not an Iraqi ministry. It had no right,” Haider Nauzad, one of Iraq’s two-man Olympic rowing team, told Reuters on Friday.
Seven Iraqi athletes -- two rowers, a weightlifter, a sprinter, a discus thrower, a judoka and an archer -- had won places in Beijing before their country was banned.
Nauzad’s rowing partner, Hamza Jabr, said: “I blame certain people in Baghdad. I don’t know if they’re competing for power or position, I just don’t know.”
Both men have continued training on the Tigris river in the hope that the IOC ban may be overturned before the start of the Beijing Games on Aug. 8.
“We’re going to train till the last breath and the last minute, until the actual Olympic race is over. Till then we’re clinging to hope,” Jabr said.
Iraqi athletes had been determined to make their presence felt in Beijing despite the difficulties they faced.
Athletes’ reputations and international links make them and their families targets for violence in Iraq, and the country’s sports infrastructure has decayed over decades.
More than 100 athletes have been killed in the country since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
It was unclear how last-minute talks could reverse the ban. The IOC said on Thursday the presence of Iraqi athletes in Beijing would be “unlikely”, suggesting there was still room for manoeuvre.
But the same day, minister Jaafar told Reuters the government would not review its decision to disband the NOC.
Some Iraqis blame the IOC for the ban, not the government, and point to what they see as political interference in the NOCs of other countries who are competing in the Olympics. The IOC’s focus on Iraq is unfair, they say.
The head of Iraq’s rowing federation called on Iraq to break the impasse.
“I call on the president and the prime minister to solve this problem with the IOC. We have had enough of wrangling,” Abdul-Salam Dawoud said.
“This is a historical event for this country. It’s not for problems of certain people to prevent us from taking part.”
(Writing by Mohammed Abbas: Editing by Sonia Oxley)