In the latest example of worldwide elites’ passive-aggressive backlash at Iraq for daring to become a democracy, the International Olympic Committee has banned Iraq from participating in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing on the eve of the competition. The stated reason? “Political influence” in the Iraqi committee for the Olympics. The government of Iraq had apparently dissolved the previous committee to root out corruption, and the chairman and other members of the committee were abducted by gunmen in July 2006, never to be seen again.
More outrageous than the lateness of the decision (seven Iraqi athletes had trained for years to compete in six events) is the lugubriously droll rationale. You might recall that Iraq has a particularly nasty history of governmental meddling in Olympic competition. The Iraqi Olympic Committee was led for decades by Uday Hussein, Saddam’s older son known as “The Butcher’s Boy” before being killed in a gunfight with U.S. soldiers in 2003. Uday had a penchant for unusual motivational techniques with his nation’s athletes, and he didn’t hesitate to use the power of the state to implement them. Here’s a slice of what one former Iraqi athlete went through (details are graphic, and more can be found in this March 24, 2003 Sports Illustrated article:
“I know what they went through,” adds Haydar, who escaped from Iraq in 1998 and now lives in London. “I was tortured four times after matches. One time, after a friendly [match] against Jordan in Amman that we lost 2-0, Uday had me and three teammates taken to the prison. When we arrived, they took off our shirts, tied our feet together and pulled our knees over a bar as we lay on our backs. Then they dragged us over pavement and concrete, pulling the skin off our backs. Then they pulled us through a sandpit to get sand in our backs. Finally, they made us climb a ladder and jump into a vat of raw sewage. They wanted to get our wounds infected. The next day, and for every day we were there, they beat our feet. My punishment, because I was a star player, was 20 [lashings] per day. I asked the guard how he could ever forgive himself. He laughed and told me if he didn’t do this, Uday would do it to him. Uday made us athletes an example. He believed that if people saw he was not afraid to beat a hero, that they would live in greater fear.”
In fact, according to the report by Sports Illustrated , the IOC knew of the allegations of caning, killing, beating, maiming, and caging of Olympic athletes and failed to investigate — even after being specifically requested to do so:
In December, INDICT [an NGO] filed a complaint with the IOC asking that Iraq be expelled from the Olympic community. Attached to the complaint were sworn statements from several Iraqi athletes detailing torture and imprisonment on orders from Uday. In February the IOC agreed to investigate Uday’s behavior. As of last week, however, none of the athletes who had given sworn statements for the INDICT complaint had been contacted by the IOC.
“[IOC leaders] have tried to call the timing of our complaint suspicious and suggest it is part of an anti-Saddam agenda,” says Forrest. “The real question should be, Why didn’t you do something about this years ago? It is not as if we’ve uncovered something no one has ever heard of, and they know it. It almost seems [that they’re thinking] that if they wait long enough, the U.S. will invade and they won’t have to deal with this issue.”
IOC president Jacques Rogge acknowledged last week that his organization received the complaint and says it is in the hands of the ethics committee. But IOC member Richard Pound says that it is “important to remember these are just allegations, and you have to make sure this is not all tied to the Iraq-U.S. dispute, that we are not being used for propaganda. You just never know.”
So, when the Hussein junta was torturing its own athletes and the U.S and NGOs were decrying the atrocities, the IOC refused to act, whispering of a suspicious “anti-Saddam agenda.” Now, the duly-elected Iraqi government, which is trying to end decades of tyrannical rule and STILL send a few athletes to the Olympics, is being accused of meddling with the Iraqi committee and is denied access to the Games?
In a quote at the end of the SI article, former athlete Haydar says that “”[t]he problem for the IOC is going to be when Saddam is overthrown and people walk into the Olympic headquarters and see the torture chamber and the blood on the floor…. What will they say then?”
Five years later, they’ve opened up the torture chamber, and we know what the IOC says — they’ll punish the athletes some more. Hussein al-Amidi, the current General Secretary of the Iraqi Olympic Committee, tells us that “those athletes who have been training – they phoned me today and they were crying and were very upset.”
But they’re very sorry about it, the IOC spokesman assures us: “We are very disappointed that the athletes have been so ill-served by their own government’s actions.”
Congratulations, IOC — you showed them.
UPDATE: At least the Washington Post agrees with me.