Monday, July 30, 2007

When the Beautiful Game transcends Sports

It is quite rare when a sporting event transcends the world of entertainment, sports fans, analysts, and monopolistic entities such as ESPN, but on Sunday was one such case. Iraq's national soccer team (a.k.a. the "Lions of the Two Rivers") beat Saudi Arabia 1-0 to win the 2007 Asian Cup and complete one of sport's great fairytale Cinderella stories. This is the first time Iraq has ever won the Asian tournament. At the start of the Asian Cup, Iraq was regarded as having little or no chance to compete because of their supposed lack of chemistry due to the diverse make up of the team, which included Kurds, Sunni and Shi'ite.

After the victory this glimmer of hope comes to a country that has been divided by war. After the game, Iraq's captain, who scored the game winner, Younis Mahmoud called for the United States to withdraw its troops from his nation. "I want America to go out," he said. "Today, tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, but out. I wish the American people didn't invade Iraq and, hopefully, it will be over soon." Coach Jorvan Vieira said "I have worked my best to give happiness to the Iraqi people, to bring a warm smile to their lips and my mission is accomplished, the satisfaction is doubled when you can get this cup and you bring happiness for a country, not just a team. It's more important than anything." The Brazilian coach resigned after the game.

Several players including the captain did not return to Iraq to celebrate due to fear of their safety. Mahmoud said "I don't want the Iraqi people to be angry with me, if I go back with the team, anybody could kill me or try to hurt me." This comes after about 50 people were killed in Iraq after they beat the Koreans in the semifinal. It is very sad that horrible people took advantage of a large innocent celebration, but hopefully the celebration following the final was a great change to the terrible daily violence.

Events such as these demonstrate the power and importance of sports and more specifically the world's most popular game, soccer. I truly wish that we as Americans could experience something like this, where at a certain point in time nothing else matters to everyone in the entire country, where everyone is united and watching their team represent the country and making them proud. People in Iraq don't have the luxury to care about ridiculously irrelevant news like what Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, or any other celebrity's daily routines are, they have to worry about whether or not they and their loved ones are going to make it through the day alive. For a sport to have the power to bring this sort of happiness to a people who live in a country as devastated as Iraq, even if for a short period of time, shows the significance and importance of the beautiful game. Watch Soccer.

"The players have made us proud, not the greedy politicians," said Sabah Shaiyal, a 43-year-old police officer in Baghdad. "Once again, our national team has shown that there is only one, united Iraq."

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