Iraqi Soccer Players Against Bush?
Iraqi soccer players upset about Bush campaign ads using team (Sports Illustrated)
Iraqi midfielder Salih Sadir scored a goal here on Wednesday night, setting off a rousing celebration among the 1,500 Iraqi soccer supporters at Pampeloponnisiako Stadium. Though Iraq — the surprise team of the Olympics — would lose to Morocco 2-1, it hardly mattered as the Iraqis won Group D with a 2-1 record and now face Australia in the quarterfinals on Sunday.
Afterward, Sadir had a message for U.S. president George W. Bush, who is using the Iraqi Olympic team in his latest re-election campaign advertisements. In those spots, the flags of Iraq and Afghanistan appear as a narrator says, “At this Olympics there will be two more free nations — and two fewer terrorist regimes.” (To see the ad, click here.)
“Iraq as a team does not want Mr. Bush to use us for the presidential campaign,” Sadir told SI.com through a translator, speaking calmly and directly. “He can find another way to advertise himself.”
Ahmed Manajid, who played as a midfielder on Wednesday, had an even stronger response when asked about Bush’s TV advertisement. “How will he meet his god having slaughtered so many men and women?” Manajid told me. “He has committed so many crimes.” “The ad simply talks about President Bush’s optimism and how democracy has triumphed over terror,” said Scott Stanzel, a spokesperson for Bush’s campaign. “Twenty-five million people in Iraq are free as a result of the actions of the coalition.”
To a man, members of the Iraqi Olympic delegation say they are glad that former Olympic committee head Uday Hussein, who was responsible for the serial torture of Iraqi athletes and was killed four months after the U.S.-led coalition invaded Iraq in March 2003, is no longer in power. But they also find it offensive that Bush is using Iraq for his own gain when they do not support his administration’s actions. “My problems are not with the American people,” says Iraqi soccer coach Adnan Hamad. “They are with what America has done in Iraq: destroy everything. The American army has killed so many people in Iraq. What is freedom when I go to the [national] stadium and there are shootings on the road?”
At a speech in Beaverton, Ore., last Friday, Bush attached himself to the Iraqi soccer team after its opening-game upset of Portugal. “The image of the Iraqi soccer team playing in this Olympics, it’s fantastic, isn’t it?” Bush said. “It wouldn’t have been free if the United States had not acted.”
I suppose this shouldn’t be shocking: it goes with the territory of invading another country, even with benign intent, and remaining behind as an occupation force. Still, it’s a jarring juxtaposition to the enthusiasm on my side of the fence about the symbolism of this team’s early success in the Olympics.