June 2, 2003
BAGHDAD, June 2 — Paul Bremer took time out from ruling Iraq on Monday to hand out soccer balls to young Iraqi footballers at a looted Baghdad stadium near the charred Olympics headquarters once run by Saddam Hussein's son Uday.
The top U.S. official in Iraq said he was determined to ensure that an Iraqi team goes to next year's Olympics in Athens to compete in the Games for the first time since 1988.
Iraq was frozen out of most international sport by United Nations sanctions imposed for its 1990 invasion of Kuwait. The U.N. Security Council lifted the sanctions last month.
Iraqi sports figures have set up an interim committee to create a new body to replace the Iraqi National Olympic Committee (INOC) used by Uday for coercion and profiteering.
''Our intention is to work intensely with this (interim) committee to produce a committee which is acceptable to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) so that an Iraqi team can go to Greece next year for the Olympics,'' Bremer said.
He said 60,000 soccer balls would be distributed around Iraq to encourage sport as part of efforts to revive civic society stunted by 35 years of Baathist rule.
Wearing a dazzling white shirt, casual trousers and trainers, Bremer went in goal to try to keep out penalties taken by Ahmed Radi, a former striker who scored Iraq's only goal in the 1986 World Cup. He saved one and missed two.
Abdul-Razzak al-Tayi, deputy minister of youth and sport, told Reuters Iraqi sports officials aimed to convene a congress in July that would elect a new Iraqi National Olympic Committee in the presence of an IOC representative.
The chairman of the interim committee, Ahmed al-Samarrai, is a former national basketball champion and army physical training officer who ran the now-dissolved Defence Ministry's sports department until he defected to Britain in 1983.
Once a member of the London-based Free Iraqi Council opposition group, he moved into northern Iraq with American special forces before the U.S.-led invasion to topple Saddam.
Asked which were Iraq's strongest sports, he said: ''Bodybuilding, boxing and shooting. Iraqis are good at shooting -- it was the only sport practised by the old regime.''