BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq will not back down from a decision to dissolve the country’s Olympic Committee even if it leads to its soccer team being thrown out of the World Cup, Sports Minister Jasem Mohammed Jaafar said.
Soccer’s world governing body FIFA had written to the Iraqi government asking for clarification of its decision last week to disband the Iraqi Olympic Committee and all sports federations, Jaafar told Reuters.
“We have received a letter from FIFA regarding the participation of Iraq in the World and Asian soccer competition,” he said in an interview.
News reports say FIFA has threatened to ban the Iraqi national team from competition, including qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup, because of the government’s move.
The spat has raised questions over Iraq’s next World Cup qualifier against Australia in Brisbane on June 1. Iraq is bottom of Asian qualifying Group 1 with one point from two games.
Iraq’s participation in the Beijing Olympics in August has also been thrown into doubt.
“We have replied to them (FIFA) in a formal letter yesterday, telling them that the disbanding ... doesn’t cover the sports federations in which the soccer federation is included,” Jaafar said.
“If FIFA insists on banning Iraq from participating in the next World Cup competition, the government won’t pull back from its decision ... for the sake of a football match,” he said.
Tariq Ahmed, assistant secretary of Iraq’s football federation, said the federation had not been told it was exempt from the government’s decision.
The government said the Iraqi Olympic Committee was illegitimate because it lacked a quorum and had failed to hold new elections.
It said it would form a temporary committee, headed by the Sports Ministry, which would hold elections for a new Olympic Committee within three months.
Bashar Mustafa, head of the Iraqi Olympic Committee, said it had received a letter from Jaafar on Sunday ordering the committee to stop work. The committee had in turn ordered national sports teams to halt their activities.
This meant Iraq would not be able to play the World Cup qualifier against Australia unless the government rescinded its decision by Tuesday, in line with a deadline given by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), he said.
The Asian Football Confederation has demanded the immediate reinstatement of Iraq’s soccer chiefs.
Mustafa said on Wednesday that the IOC had told the Iraqi committee Iraq would be barred from taking part in the Beijing Games if the government went ahead with its decision.
An IOC official told Reuters last week the body had given Iraq a deadline to re-establish the Iraqi Olympic Committee.
“We are hoping there is some sort of solution. Otherwise the IOC would have to look at potential actions,” the official said.
The official said the Iraq issue was on the agenda for the IOC’s executive board meeting in Athens on June 4-6.
Jaafar said he would lead a delegation to Kuwait next week to meet the IOC.
Iraq planned to send a small team to compete in the Beijing Games despite violence that has killed more than 100 athletes in the country since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
Playmaker Nashat Akram, whose move to Premier League Manchester City fell through earlier this year because of work permit problems, said the team and the Iraqi people would suffer because of political squabbling.
“It’s a problem between the government and the federation, not us,” Akram told Reuters after a training session in Bangkok.
“We’re ready, we just want to play football. The Iraqi people are worrying about the future of our game. We have to forget this and hope we get to play. What can we do?”
(Additional reporting by Karolos Grohmann in Athens and Khalid al-Ansary in Baghdad))
Writing by Adrian Croft, Editing by Clare Fallon and Clare Lovell