For more on Iraq, see the related postings at "Left Wing," our auxiliary "blog."

Shifting sands of Iraq (our enemy, our friend . . .)

Click to read Packer's article Click to read Packer's article

Thessaloniki, Greece | With Iraq's tremendous Olympic run still going—they will play Italy for the bronze medal on Friday—there has been interesting spillover into the U.S. presidential campaign. Quoth the Yale-educated George W. Bush in a recent press conference: "I liked the—let's see—Iraqi soccer. I liked seeing the Afghan woman carrying the flag coming in. I loved our gymnasts. I have been watching the swimming. I have seen a lot." The bigger problem is the new Bush-Cheney advertisement, "Victory" (click for link to Bush-Cheney site and a media window with which to see the ad), which implies a cause-and-effect relationship between administration foreign policy and the clear outcome: women and men from Afghanistan and Iraq taking part in Olympic competition. "Freedom is spreading throughout the world like a sunrise," states the commercial, in part. "And this Olympics . . . there will be two more free nations. . . . And two fewer terrorist regimes." Mainstream media reaction—not to mention the reaction of Iraqi footballers (see Grant Wahl, "Unwilling Participants," SI.com, 19 August)—has been surprisingly strong. Some have raised the possibility of copyright infringement, as the Olympic name in the United States is a property held by the U.S. Olympic Committee. More significant, though, is the Bush administration's misrepresentation of its own achievements:

What should we think about President Bush trying to squeeze a little juice out of these Olympics by tying them to his wars? On the one hand I guess it's reasonable given that Iraqi athletes used to get tortured by Saddam Hussein's sadistic son Uday. On the other hand, it's one more area in which Bush is running for reelection based on things he himself personally did not actually do. The swift boat guys are knocking John Kerry on the issue of Vietnam (where Bush never set foot) and he has his own ad up wrapping himself in the Olympic spirit, not that he has swum a single stroke or turned a single somersault, or shown much regard for the IOC charter. (Sally Jenkins, "Let the Political Gamesmanship Begin," Washington Post)


In Athens, sewing anonymously for fair trade. (www.fairolympics.org)

More measured is Lawrence Donegan's assessment in The Guardian ("Bush's Games Hijack Leaves a Very Sour Taste"). He points out the role of the Iraq team's public-relations flunky, Mark Clark, who suggests—in infantilizing fashion— that the Iraqi players may have been naive in their answers or possibly mistranslated. For Sports Illustrated writer Wahl's part, he affirms his story and the accuracy of the quotes ("Setting the Record Straight"). "I want the violence and the war to go away from [Najaf]," Iraq midfielder Salih Sadir had told Wahl. "We don't wish for the presence of Americans in our country. We want them to go away." Our marginal note to all this back-and-forth is that "all is mediated": everyone involved, including Bush, speaks through another, so that the reality is ever watered down.

Women footballers, in another constant, have served as background figures to the Iraq team's achievement. Sweden and Brazil contested their semifinal before 1,500 in Patras; the United States and Germany drew 3,500 in Crete. Before the Games started, women's rights had drawn some attention with a "sew-in" on 9 August, featuring masked women at sewing machines. The women represented the laborers working in sweatshop conditions in developing countries, churning out sportswear (see photo, above). On the plus side, more women than ever are competing in Olympic events, with the addition in these Twenty-eighth Games of women's saber and wrestling. Writes Teri Tiso of Stony Brook University, a competitor in women's marathon in the 1984 U.S. Olympic Trials, on the ARETE listserv for sports and literature:

[We] hope that the perception of females as athletes in every sense of the word will continue to be described with the words that are always used to depict our male counterparts—that is[,] strength, big, strong, grace, muscular, flexible, beauty, perfection, dominant, aggressive, magnificent, otherworldly, winner, leader, obsessed, hard worker, inspiration, role model. Now . . . we have to continue to support our female athletes in the Muslim and African countries where they are still prevented from competing in public, if at all.

On the football pitch, the team from the United States has drawn attention for the spectacular quintet of Brandi Chastain, Kristine Lilly, Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy and Joy Fawcett. All but the first two players have announced their international retirements following these Games. Yet, we are always saddened that U.S. broadcasters—NBC in this case—regularly ignore the opposition in their coverage. This is a common theme at the Global Game. (An exception should be made for Telemundo, which, although part of the NBC arsenal, has televised women's games not involving the United States.) No question that the five women mentioned should have their own wing of any women's sports Hall of Fame, but what does the world think of them? Does Cristiane of the equally spectacular Brazil (see our report from the 2003 Women's World Cup) have praise for these women's pioneering efforts, given that the mayor of her town, Osasco in São Paulo, will splurge for two big-screen televisions to show the women's gold-medal match on the streets? Does the valiant women's side from Greece, with nine players from the United States, credit Chastain et al. for the fact that their team has come into existence? ("Our goal is for this team to really open the road so that women's soccer in Greece becomes accepted," said Greece coach Xanthi Konstandinidou. "That's the problem, that it is not socially accepted. Soccer in Greece is a man's sport" ["First Greek Women's Soccer Team Prepares for Olympics," Associated Press, 14 July].) We likely will never know the answers to these questions: the doors of much of our media, as with the doors of our leaders in Washington, are closed to the "outside world."

Note on sources: For more on women and the Olympic Games, see the website of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and the online exhibit "The Real Story of the Ancient Olympic Games." Also see the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum's "The Sporting Woman: The Female Athlete in American Culture."

Catching up, part II | Asia


China issued this stamp of Workers' Stadium as part of a series commemorating the 1989 Asian Games.

Beijing | Playing the home side in 62,000-capacity Workers' Stadium, Iraq's energizing run through the Asian Cup ended today in the quarterfinals, 3–0. Coach Adnan Hamd, who replaced the departed Bernd Stange, apologized afterward that Iraq goalkeeper Ahmed Ali had pushed Manchester City's Sun Jihai to the ground toward the end of the contest, and that a melee had ensued. Ali was sent off. Hamd will take the same under-23 side to Athens in two weeks, knowing that two group-stage victories over Turkmenistan and Saudi Arabia lifted the country, especially following a grisly Wednesday (28 July), when 70 were killed in a suicide car-bomb attack north of Baghdad. "The players were very shocked," Hamd said on Thursday. "All the players were talking about it at breakfast today." Iraqis had been shooting guns into the air on Monday following the win over Saudi Arabia, the same team they had beaten in May to advance to the Olympics (see Jackie Spinner, "In Midst of Chaos, Sweet Victory," Washington Post, 27 July). Iraq has been playing its home qualifiers in Jordan while the U.S. military uses the stadium in Baghdad to park tanks. Firas Salem, who works in a central Baghdad barber shop, told the Washington Post that he already noticed a new confidence among the players: "They used to fear when they played. It wasn't sport. Now they play for their own interest." A 15-year-old boy said "[t]he important thing now is our players will never have to put Saddam's picture on their shirts. "

Iraq has been the story of the event until today, but Sepp Blatter and FIFA minions stopped the presses before the tournament by declaring officially that China had invented football. Tsu chu or cu ju is the alleged progenitor, dated to the Qin Dynasty (220–206 B.C.E.), if not before, and placed in the kingdom's capital, Linzi. The goal of tsu chu was to kick a ball through an opening into a small net, which was fixed onto erected bamboo canes. "Thank you China as the birthplace of football," Asian Football Confederation secretary-general Peter Velappan proclaimed at China Football Expo 2004 ("FIFA Boss Hails China as Football Birthplace," People's Daily, 16 July). "Football started in China and the sport's future belongs to Asia. Now I will ask the [Chinese Football Association] to work with FIFA and AFC to establish a museum and further establish related courses in college." Now that the question of football's beginnings has been put to rest, we can all sleep fitfully.

Beyond the Asian Cup, Asia's place in the world game continues to come to prominence. Efforts of Thailand prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra to acquire a 30 percent stake in Liverpool football club fell through (see Michael Elliott, "The Appeal of the Familiar," Time Asia, 17 May), but Thai liquor Have fun, grab a Changbaron Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi closed an endorsement agreement with Everton. Everton home and away shirts this season will bear the two-headed elephant logo (right) of Chang Beer (see Amy Kazmin, "Thai Brewer Signs Landmark UK Football Deal," Financial Times, 7 July). The agreement allows Everton to gain valuable exposure in the Far East, while Thai footballers will travel to Everton academy for training. The more radical $112 million deal between Liverpool and the Thai government, which would have been paid for through a national lottery, was seen as a bit too bizarre. Kazmin writes that "the scheme provoked vehement opposition from Thai social conservatives, consumer groups and other critics." Hearts FC of the Scottish Premier League, meanwhile, have also been pursuing links with Thailand, with commercial deals and player exchanges part of the conversations (Paul Kiddie, "Hearts Out to Thai Up Talent," Edinburgh Evening News, 8 July). Such initiatives might or might not please the ever-present Blatter, who spoke before the Asian Cup about the advantages of European clubs lending talent to Asian leagues, rather than the reverse. The idea will be up for discussion at a FIFA meeting in October (James Kynge, "Send Football's Young Stars to Play in Asia, Says FIFA Chief," Financial Times, 17 July).

Players may not be exported from Europe to Asia in great numbers, but their images have become familiar. The BBC World Service in June broadcast a program ("TV Invasion"; direct link to the audio is available here) chronicling the influence of television in Bhutan, where legal broadcasts began in 1999. The launch of a domestic broadcasting concern and cable TV followed from the 1998 World Cup final, watched by thousands on a big screen in Bhutan's National Square. Football's attraction to the Tibetan monks confabulateBhutanese and to Himalayan cultures has become common knowledge through the Bhutanese-produced, lama-directed film The Cup, and through the 2002 documentary The Other Final (see The Global Game's interview with director Johan Kramer). But the BBC documentary—as well as a similar program for the U.S.-based Public Broadcasting Service ("Bhutan—The Last Place," Frontline/World, May 2002)—presents a sobering view of daily habits and liturgies interrupted by the TV-fueled interest in the West. The programs are full of depressing comments, such as that from Tintin Dorji, son of Bhutan's cable entrepreneur: "When we had no TV, I used to play with my dog a lot. But now I prefer to watch television." "When football is on, people now stay up very late," says Deychan Dema, who works in the offices of Sigma Cable Service (Orville Schell, "Gross National Happiness," Red Herring, 15 January 2002). Internet service was also inaugurated at about the same time as television. Now, says Kinlay Dorjee, "Suddenly we find ourselves stuck in front of so many screens! It has become a kind of compulsion, so that we feel it was almost like ignoring God, or Buddha, to not answer our screens!"

Archive

Amman, Jordan, 5 Dec 03 | David Enders files for online magazine Slate from the decisive Iraq–North Korea men's Olympic qualifier ("Soccer in the Axis of Evil"). Iraq won 4-1 for the aggregate victory and advances to the next qualifying round (the North Korea match actually occurred on 8 November). Enders flashes back to an earlier moment in the U.S. military occupation of Iraq:

Near the end of June, the occupation-appointed adviser to the Ministry of Youth and Sport, Don Eberle, presided over a farcical "turning-over" of the Olympic Stadium. The occasion included a scrimmage between a hastily assembled team of Iraqi professionals and an even more hastily assembled team of Marines. There were snipers posted around the stadium, and behind the standard ambulance a medical unit sat on a tank. Artillery holes pockmarked the bleachers, which were sparsely filled with bored-looking troops who rooted for the Iraqis. The home team trounced the Marines, 11-0, in a physical but friendly match. The quintessential American problem: great at war, not so good at playing the world game.

Baghdad, 8 Sept 03 | The Iraqi national team has launched its 18-day tour of Germany, and the results are starting to come. Coach Bernd StangeStange has also begun his rehabilitation in the media after being photographed beside an image of Saddam Hussein, leading to Stange's demonization throughout Europe. The Times (London) portrays Stange as a savior for Iraqi football and as a friend of Sven Göran-Eriksson to boot. "This war destroyed football," Stange tells the Times's Daniel McGrory. "Of course, there are many things much more important than soccer. Iraq needs water, medicines, new hospitals but never underestimate how much football means to Iraqis." Stange's major complaints are about facilities. He blames a U.S. tank regiment for spoiling the team's training ground: "I won't call them bad boys in public until I've spoken to them, but you would think they would have repaired the stadium before they gave it back to us."

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