Thursday, August 26, 2004

Offsides

From today's SF Chron:

Judging from the reactions of Iraqi fans, the people of war-ravaged Iraq are proud and excited to be fielding a soccer team at the Summer Olympics in Athens. The team's members haven't been pleased, though, by the way George W. Bush has co-opted their participation in the Games and manipulated it for
political purposes.

The problem: a Bush-campaign TV advertisement titled "Victory." The ad starts with footage from the Munich Olympics in 1972, when Palestinian terrorists killed 13 Israeli athletes. Then a narrator's voice, heard over an image of the fluttering flags of Iraq and Afghanistan, declares (and clearly suggests that it's thanks to Bush), "At this Olympics, there will be two more free nations and two fewer terrorist regimes." (Times; subscription may be required)

The online edition of the American magazine Sports Illustrated broke the story of the Iraqi soccer players' discontent. They "find it offensive that Bush is using their team for his own gain when they do not support his administration's actions in Iraq," Sports Illustrated reporter Grant Wahl wrote from Greece.

He quoted the team's coach, Adnan Hamad, who said, "My problems are not with the American people. ... They are with what America has done in Iraq: destroy everything. The American army has killed so many people in Iraq. What is freedom when I go to the [national] stadium and there are shootings on the road?" Midfielder Ahmad Manajid told Wahl, "I want to defend my home. If a stranger invades America and the people resist, does that mean they are terrorists?"

Hamad's remarks were picked up and echoed in other news-service and newspaper reports around the world. "You cannot speak about a team that represents freedom," he also said. "We do not have freedom in Iraq -- we have an occupying force. This is one of our most miserable times." (Reuters)

(Simultaneously, Bush's campaign was accused "of illegal use of Olympic symbols" in its political ad. That's because "[o]nly the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC), or its sponsors and partners, are allowed to use the symbols in [advertisements], under American copyright law." A USOC representative said the organization had requested a copy of the TV spot. (Times))

The Iraqi athletes' comments were reported to be an "embarrassment" for "their media handlers in Athens." (Guardian/Sydney Morning Herald) "Officials from the Iraqi Olympic delegation sought to downplay the political implications of the players' statements ..." and alleged that "journalists had deliberately provoked an angry response from the ... athletes." (Deutsche Welle)

Mark Clark, one of the American officials who have been working with the Iraqi team, said, "It seems the story was engineered. ... The players are not very sophisticated politically; they are a little naive. Whoever posed these questions knew ... the reaction would be negative." Still, Clark allowed, "It's a free, new Iraq and the players are entitled to their opinions, but we are disappointed." (Reuters/Australian Broadcasting Corp.)

Politically sophisticated or not, the players quoted by reporters certainly sounded impassioned. As Manajid told Wahl, "How will [Bush] meet his god [after] having slaughtered so many men and women? ... He has committed so many crimes."

I yet yet to watch the ad with audio - but conceptually, it's rather galling, isn't it? More on this later.


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