Steve Sachs Duke


Saturday, June 26, 2004


FIFA, Kenya, and Iraq: Those following the Euro Cup might have missed some developments elsewhere in the soccer world. Early this June, Kenya was suspended from international play by the governing body FIFA. The Kenyan Football Federation (KFF), which oversees Kenyan soccer, had been accused along with its top officials of corruption and financial mismanagement. When the government dissolved the KFF and replaced it with a new interim body, FIFA criticized the "blatant interference in local football affairs" and suspended Kenya indefinitely. FIFA also condemned the arrest of three KFF officials on corruption charges; the officials were later released on bond.

Now, maybe these officials' prosecutions were politically motivated, and maybe FIFA has performed a noble service by protecting the unjustly accused. (Those same officials are now threatening to boycott FIFA's attempts at mediation.) Still, it's odd that the international sporting world would leap to the defense of an allegedly corrupt football federation, amid facts that are very unclear, when it was perfectly satisfied with the well-documented torture and humiliation of players in Saddam's Iraq.

The Iraqi national soccer team recently qualified for the 2004 Olympics, and according to Reuters, FIFA officials have an explanation for that success:

The United States-led invasion of Iraq and its bloody aftermath may even have contributed to those successes, according to a senior FIFA development official.

"Maybe if the Iraqis were not facing these difficult obstacles, they would not have achieved all this success," Paul Mony told Reuters.

"The war gave them reason to try harder and also prompted help from countries like England, Germany, Italy, United States, as well as FIFA. This help would not have been forthcoming had they not been in trouble."

Of course, the athletes themselves offer a different explanation:

Captain Hussam Fawzi said in London that the team, once run by Saddam's feared son Uday, were glad to put the past behind them.

"(The past is) something that's horrible and a dark cloud over all the Iraqi players," Fawzi told a news conference on Tuesday.

"Athletes should not go through this -- they were tortured, they were imprisoned."

Uday, who with his brother Qusay was killed in a battle with American soldiers in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul last July, ran the team, as well as the national Olympic Committee, and was known to physically punish underperforming players.

Let's see what this "physically punish" could mean:

Soccer Players Describe Torture by Hussein's Son
(May 6, 2003)

The New York Times

BAGHDAD, Iraq — It was little surprise that Habib Jaafer, star midfielder of the Iraqi national soccer team for the past 17 years, stiffened as he approached the National Olympic Committee.


His fear is understandable. This building was equipped with torture contraptions that included a sarcophagus, with long nails pointing inward from every surface, including the lid, so victims could be punctured and suffocated.

Another device, witnesses said, was a metal framework designed to clamp over a prisoner's body, with footrests at the bottom, rings at the shoulders and attachment points for power cables, so the victim could be hoisted and subjected to electric shocks.

After the Olympic building burned, reporters visiting the ruins found the sarcophagus with nails abandoned out back, as if dragged there by the looters who emptied the building of its furniture before it burned.


After drawing or losing games, players were punished. A missed penalty or other poor play entailed a ritual head shaving at the Stadium of the People, or being spat on by Uday's bodyguards.

A series of poor passes, carefully counted, could result in a player's being forced to stand before the president's son in the dressing room, hands at his side, while he was punched or slapped in the face an equal number of times.

But those were the lesser miseries. Some players endured long periods in a military prison, beaten on their backs with electric cables until blood flowed. Other punishments included "matches" kicking concrete balls around the prison yard in 130-degree heat, and 12-hour sessions of push-ups, sprints and other fitness drills, wearing heavy military fatigues and boots.

The Paul Mony who made such innocent comments to Reuters is, in fact, the same person who visited Iraq in 1997 to investigate these allegations. After speaking only to players Uday allowed him to speak to, and seeing what Uday allowed him to see, he concluded (surprise, surprise) that there was no torture of soccer players in Iraq. From ESPN, writing in December 2002:

He looked. He saw nothing. He exonerated.

But one of the two FIFA officials who cleared Iraq of allegations that soccer players were tortured in 1997 says he does not doubt the credibility of other Iraqi athletes who are now coming forward with more allegations of abuse.

"I can't say they are lying," said Rustum Baker, a FIFA representative from Qatar. "I just didn't see anything."

Baker and Paul Mony Samuel, a soccer official from Malaysia, spent two days in Baghdad in the service of FIFA, which had responded to reports that some players were punished after Iraq lost a World Cup qualifying game to Kazakhstan in 1997. They talked to Iraqi soccer officials and coaches, and some but not all -- 12 -- of the players. None of them said they were tortured, and the investigators examined them for physical evidence of abuse.

Their findings from the two-day investigation have been ridiculed by Iraqi athletes and other exiles familiar with the consequences for speaking out in the police state.

"Do they think a player inside Iraq has the guts and capability to talk against Uday?" said Entifadh Qanbar, who runs the Washington office of the Iraqi National Congress, a coalition of opposition groups. "They should know better. That's like going to streets of Chicago in the 1930s and asking the shop owners, 'Do you like Al Capone?' "

When asked if he thought players had the ability to tell him the truth, Baker said: "We're supposed to respect all people. We cannot say that they couldn't tell us the truth."

Sharar Haydar, who played for the Iraqi national team at the time, says he missed that game with injury and was not interviewed by FIFA officials. But he says players were, in fact, tortured after that game. He expects more players on that team to come forward if Saddam Hussein is removed from power.

The International Olympic Committee hardly fared better when investigating claims of torture. Here's their response to a complaint filed in 2002:

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."

"That disgusts me that someone would say that," says Haydar, the former soccer star. "I wish they would run their hands over our scars, see the pain in our eyes and float in raw sewage. Then there would be no questions."

"The 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," Forrest says. "What will they say then?"

Well, it's already happened, but there haven't been too many apologies. An interview with FIFA's Paul Mony in Malaysia, his country of origin, notes his role as an investigator but makes no mention of his indifference to a horrific decade of torture. The gushing Reuters report quoted above notes that Mony is still active in Iraq, protecting his former Baathist pals:

Firm action from Iraqi officials and FIFA, which resisted U.S. pressure to prevent supporters of Saddam's toppled Baath party from standing for IFA elections, has aided the rejuvenation of the beautiful game in Iraq.

The U.S. administration had expressed concern about interim committee president Hussein Saeed, one of the driving forces behind Iraq's recent success.

Before the war, Saeed served as vice president of the IFA under Uday.

"Hussein Saeed is one of the most popular soccer personalities in Iraq. He did a lot of work after the war to make sure Iraq's top players continued to play in competitive matches," said Mony.

Funny, Saeed also seems remarkably quick to put the past behind him:

Hussein Saeed, assistant secretary-general of Iraq's Olympic Committee, has said athletes should forget the past.

"We put this period behind us and say let bygones be bygones. Let us start a new direction," said Saeed, a former soccer player who was Odai's deputy.

So let's get this straight. Beat your players with electric cables, or imprison them in a sarcophagus full of nails, and FIFA might eventually launch a half-hearted investigation. But arrest an official for allegedly mishandling funds, and FIFA will have your head by morning. Glad to know the sports world hasn't lost its sense of shame.




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