The volatile situation in Iraq is crippling the development of its football, a sport widely loved in the country, Iraqi footballers say.
Samer Saeied, a former player for Iraq’s national football team who competed at the 2007 Asia Cup and helped his country to win the championship, described the current situation as “really bad”.
Coming from a family that has produced two generations of football players, Saeied said the deteriorating security situation in Iraq makes him concerned about his son’s future.
“I don’t want my son to grow up under the shadow of terrorism. I hope peace would be restored when he grows up,” said Saeied.
Likewise, Hanon Mashkor, a coach with the Air Force Sports Club youth camp in Baghdad, said Iraqi football players were being threatened by attacks across the country.
“We have players coming under attack. A player from the ‘students’ club’ came under a bomb attack at the east gate of his club. The player lost his life.
“Some players from the national team have family members killed in attacks. These players are suffering psychological trauma for losing beloved ones,” said Mashkor.
Forced to leave
In August, it was reported that the unrest in northern and central Iraq was hampering the national under-21 football team’s preparation for the Asian Games with only 12 squad members reporting at a training session in Baghdad.
A much-loved sport in Iraq, football has however been banned by certain groups in the territory they claimed to control across the northern and western regions.
Saeied, who also plays for Air Force Sports Club, said he had to leave Iraq for seven years because of the continuing unrest.
“Many players went to the neighbouring Gulf states. The situation was really bad in Iraq, especially between 2007 and 2009. I went to Tripoli in Libya, and played there for three years, then I went to Qatar to play for a team there,” said Saeied.
But Kamel Izegier, a member of Iraq Football Association (IFA), says the situation will change and that football will return.
“During the US invasion of Iraq, the US troops blocked many roads with their tanks, so the kids were able to play football in streets. Iraqi people have no fear, we want Mosul to be freed as early as possible.
“The Iraqi national team will soon be able to play in Mosul after the defeat of Islamic State of Syria and the Levant (ISIL) forces, and share the joy with team Mosul,” he said.
Apart from the security issues, the lack of financial support is another factor hindering football’s development in Iraq, according to Basil Gorgies, manager of Iraqi national team.
“FIFA banned Iraq from holding football matches in all of its provinces. This puts us in trouble, because our team, which is comprised of 40 people, will face extra costs to travel abroad for a match. Spending in booking tickets, hotel and food are too high for us. This problem only exists in Iraq,” he said.