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Tuesday, July 29, 2008
IOC lifts Iraq's Olympic Suspension

Last week, Aaron Zelinsky argued that the IOC should reverse its ban on Iraqi players from the Olympics. Today, the IOC did just that (though only two of the seven banned athletes remain eligible to participate in the Olympics, meaning the other five won't benefit from the IOC's reversal).


And Iraq promised to hold free elections to establish an independent Olympic Committee, as per IOC rules.

Had they done that in June, the other five athletes might be competing as well.

Blogger Ken Houghton -- 7/29/2008 5:44 PM  

I suppose it was the anticipated compromise but it is extremely disappointing. The fact is that, according to NOCI’s own statutes, there would have had to be elections for a new NOC executive in any event after the Games, so this is nothing new and cannot be seen as some concession offered by the Iraqi Government. In the absence of the 24 NOCI officials who remain missing after being kidnapped two years ago, the only validly elected NOCI officials, duly recognized by the IOC to represent the Olympic Movement in Iraq, remain the interim NOCI administration that has run things since the kidnapping. If anyone is to represent NOCI in Beijing it should be them.

The IOC statement says that “Iraqi athletes will compete in Beijing under the Iraqi flag, led by coaches and team leaders selected by the independent Iraqi National Olympic Committee”. If this refers to the interim NOCI administration which the Iraqi Government recently dissolved, then the reinstatement of those NOCI officials is some progress. It is just a shame that their recognition by the Iraqi Government came too late for the other Iraqi athletes whose Olympic dreams have been shattered.

However, the statement goes on to say that “Five government representatives will be invited by the IOC as observers to the Games in Beijing”. It is encouraging that there is dialogue, but it is very disappointing that the dialogue has not included a commitment by the Iraqi Government to investigate and resolve the case of the 24 kidnapped officials. 24 officials abducted and vanished off the face of the earth. 24 families shattered and living with the horror of unrequited hope for two years. Is that not the bigger issue to consider amongst all the talk of human rights and Olympic Values? Since the allegations are that the current Minister for Youth & Sport and other government officials and advisors are directly implicated in the abductions, it seems that they have a case to answer. They should have been required to answer it before being offered an invitation to the Games, even as Observers, by the IOC. This is a very sad lost opportunity and a crushing blow to the families of the 24 missing officials. I fear that once the Games are over the media and political interest will divert elsewhere, and the pressure on the Iraqi Government to resolve their horrific saga will evaporate. I hope I am proved wrong.


Below is a post of mine from 24th July. What a shame the "worst case
prediction came true...:

Yesterday's confirmation from the International Olympic Committee (IOC), that their suspension of the National Olympic Committee of Iraq will remain in place and that Iraqi athletes cannot therefore participate in the Beijing Olympics, can only be good news.

Dana Perino's comments may have been correct in expressing sympathy for the seven Iraqi athletes themselves, but the headlines emphasize entirely the wrong message and send the wrong signal to the American people and the rest of the world.

We all appreciate that for a small group of seven Iraqi athletes who had a chance to compete in Beijing, it is a devastating blow to their personal dreams, but this issue is much bigger than that. It strikes at the heart of the Olympic Charter and the autonomy of the Olympic Movement and its independence from governmental interference.

The key here is that the blame for the ban lies not with the IOC, but with the Iraqi Government, for their cabinet decision to dissolve the legitimate NOCI in May. Since then, the IOC put in place a provisional suspension but invited the Iraqi Government to come to the table to work through the issues in order that the suspension could be lifted in time. The Iraqi Government failed to do so.

Because the deadline for allocation of places has passed, the "wild card" tripartite commission places offered to Iraqi athletes have had to be withdrawn and passed to other athletes. The delays in the Iraqi Government responding to the IOC's demands mean that the seven Iraqi athletes do not now even have the option of competing as individuals under the Olympic Flag, something that could have been possible if negotiated before the deadline.

I believe that the US government has an opportunity to send a much clearer message in support of the suspension, and it can be more clearly explained that the US supports the IOC in simply upholding the rules of the Olympic Charter to protect the autonomy of sport.

My fear had been that there might be a last minute deal between Prime Minister Al Maliki and the IOC to lift the suspension and allow Iraqi participation. That would put many more lives at risk in Iraq. We can only presume that if the 24 NOCI officials abducted two years ago are not already dead then such a deal would make their deaths absolutely certain. More than that, however, it would send a message to the world that the IOC is too weak to uphold its own Olympic Charter and has opened the door to governmental interference in Olympic Committees around the world: an extremely dangerous precedent. I sincerely hope that possibility has now been quashed.

For the sake of the families of the 24 NOCI hostages, we continue to push for news on their status, and ultimately for their release if they are still alive. Perhaps the White House’s sympathies, and action, could now focus on their horrific plight rather than the seven disappointed athletes.

Is there anything you can do to help keep their story alive, and perhaps to help prompt the US authorities to do more to support the IOC in pushing the Iraqi government to resolve the situation of the NOCI and the hostages?


Mark Clark

Former Advisor for Sport in the Coalitional Provisional Authority, Baghdad

Former Advisor to the National Olympic Committee of Iraq

Blogger Mark -- 7/30/2008 6:48 PM  


May I suggest a link related to the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games?

Our site:

Title: Beijing Olympics

Please let me know if you want a link back.
Many thanks for your reply.

Best Regards,


Blogger Don -- 8/08/2008 6:42 AM  

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