PtG Article 08.11.2006

Disabled athletes also targets for kidnappers in Iraq

In Iraq kidnappers have released a blind Iraqi athlete and a paralympic coach just two days after capturing them. The two men’s experience is an exception to the rule as athletes in Iraq continue to be prime targets of abduction and assassination for political and economic reasons.

The two men were taken away by unknown gunmen who came in four cars to the team’s practice at a youth club in Baghdad. The coach and the blind player were released unharmed two days later, reports the International Herald Tribune.

According to the newspaper’s sources the two men were told not to say anything about their ordeal. However, one sport official says that the coach had been asked questions which indicated that the kidnappers were Shiite militiamen who wanted to ascertain whether the two men were linked to the Sunni insurgency in Iraq.

The two athletes are now in Jordan training for a tournament in Malaysia and in this respect they have been far more fortunate than other athletes in Iraq - perhaps because of the disability aspect.

The kidnappers must have known that the news about the kidnapping was getting bigger and bigger and that these were simply disabled athletes who have won medals in international competition for their country,” Qahtan al-Nimi, chairman of Iraq’s paralympics committee told the International Herald Tribune.

The list continues to grow

Play the Game reported on the abductions and assassinations of Iraqi athletes in August this year after the mass abduction of the Iraqi Olympic Committee of whom there is still no news. Since then the list has grown even longer and in September alone

  • a 37-year old former Iraqi national volleyball player was killed by gunmen in his shop in Baghdad
  • a popular 22-year old Iraqi football player who is a member of the Olympic team was kidnapped and has not been heard of since
  • an international football referee was kidnapped as he left the football association’s offices. The kidnappers have demanded a ransom of 200,000 US dollars

Money is another reason for abductions. The British newspaper The Times reports that in Iraq anyone connected to sport, and especially the West, is perceived to be connected to money and Western sympathies.

”So when FIFA, football’s world governing body, for instance, funds the Iraqi federation with 250,000 US dollars a year, or stumps up more than 1 million US dollars for a new technical centre, you wonder if the largesse is misplaced,” the newspaper remarks.

Sport is emigrating abroad

Meanwhile the International Olympic Committee is concerned about the plight of athletes in Iraq. Speaking at a congress in Cuba, IOC president Jacques Rogge told Associated Press that the IOC plans to offer Iraqi athletes the possibility of training in other nations ahead of upcoming competition.

The Times points out that much of Iraqi sport has already emigrated abroad. The local Olympic Committee operates in part from offices in Jordan and football players are desperately trying to get contracts with clubs abroad. Also, the IOC is already funding a number of Iraqi athletes to train abroad but does not want to tell The Times who they are for security reasons.