Jane Ashworth examines the potential role of football in the new Iraq

Its not just the brand-mangers at the Premiership who scream about the
power of football. And football is not just a tool used by ruling
elites to whip up nationalism or to bond to them an otherwise
potentially rebellious working class. Football can be a negative
political tool but it can also be a force for strengthening community
networks and inter-communal ties.

This may prove to be especially true in Iraq which has a strong
football history. Even this year they made the Olympic Semi Final
without the type of pre-tournament training which most of the other
teams would take for granted. It is likely that investment in
community football in Iraq could be a source of unity from which more
overtly political relationships can develop.
Unable to work in Iraq because of the security situation, the Football
Association visited Jordan to deliver coach education to Iraq’s top
players, many of whom were national team veterans who played under
Saddam Hussein’s notoriously sadistic son Uday.
The FA’s International Dept specialises in coach education across the
world. Laurie McMenemie lead a delegation to Afghanistan not long
after the Taliban fell. They played some games and showed a few
Afghanis how to organise themselves as coaches. The papers said it was
well received.
The security situation is making organising football a hard task. The
Times reports (11/12/04) that even the Iraqi national league has its
problems: ‘After three rounds of matches it was suspended because
teams struggled to get to fixtures on time past US and British forces’
‘Salman Hussein Hashim, 26, a former Olympic and national team player,
who now plays for Najaf is only too aware of the difficulties. “We
couldn’t play or train for quite a long time,” Hashim, a striker for
the national league side, Najaf, who plans to coach under-15 players,
said. “Now things are much better, though really we’re still only able
to play within Najaf itself.”
In many countries working class sport is organised through the labour
movement. The Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions could do far worse than
think about taking on that role themselves.