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Homo Ludens


Yesterday, one of the “feel-good stories” of the Athens Olympic Games, indeed, one of the “games’ most captivating stories,” drew to its uneventful conclusion, when the Iraqi national soccer team (“football,” as the sport is known in the more civilized parts of the world) lost in the bronze medal round of the tournament to the Italian team, by a score of 1-0.


The day before this match (Aug. 26), the Italian journalist Enzo Baldoni’s execution at the hands of a group reported to call itself the Islamic Army in Iraq was confirmed. Baldoni, it appears, was beheaded, a videotape of his murder delivered to Al Jazeera for proof.

Baldoni had disapeared roughly one week earlier—swept off the streets of the besieged city of Najaf. His captors demanded that Rome withdraw the 2,400 troops serving in the so-called Multinational Force conveniently operating under the Americans’ command. Rome, predictably, declined. Bladoni joins the ranks of at least ten other foreign hostages of the occupation to have been abducted and murdered since the start of April.

Sometime before the news of Baldoni’s murder was announced, Adnan Hamad, the Iraqi soccer team’s head coach, issued a public appeal—one of several by Hamad, in fact—to Baldoni’s captors to spare his life and release him. “We want to send a message of peace to those who have taken him,” Hamad plead on one occasion. “They should let him go back to his family. We are all brothers. We are all human beings. We don’t have anything against the Americans or anyone else, even if our country has been destroyed.” (Agence France Presse, Aug. 26.)

To no avail.

Soon after Baldoni’s murder, reports began to be filed from Greece that both the Italian and the Iraqi soccer teams had agreed to wear black armbands during Friday’s bronze medal match. But this would never happen. In perhaps the most authentic moment of this Olympiad, the games receded into oblivion, and Hamad spoke up again (my thanks to ZNet Blogs visitor insert clever name here for first calling this one to everyone’s collective attention):

We will not be wearing black armbands. The Italians will be and we respect their choice. We regret the death of the Italian journalist but it’s necessary also to think of the hundreds of Iraqis who have died each day during resistance to the occupation. It would be necessary to wear an armband every day. We sent a message to the kidnappers to free the journalist but sadly it was in vain.

I keep trying to find this quote reported where it would matter the most to report it—in the news media of the states whose leadership launched the war over Iraq in the first place, where the ruling party of one of these states in particular keeps referring to the success of the Iraqi soccer team at the Olympics as proof that “Freedom is spreading throughout the world like a sunrise,” and that at “this Olympics there will be two more free nations. And two fewer terrorist regimes.”

And I keep looking today for mentions of the name ‘Hamad’, along with various meaningful fragments of the aforementioned quote: ‘not be wearing black armbands’, ‘respect their choice’, ‘regret the death of the Italian journalist’, ‘think of the hundreds of Iraqis who have died each day during the resistance to the occupation’ (even fragments thereof), ‘necessary to wear an armband every day’, you name it.

But, nothing. Absolutely nothing. (Aside from the AFP report that insert clever name here found in the web edition of the Hindustan Times, and shared with us.)

In Sunday morning’s papers, perhaps?

Postscript. Powerful quotes from Adnan Hamad and some of the Iraqi national soccer team’s members certainly are in circulation. Finding and sorting them out is another matter. But the one cited above is about as good as they get.

Here’s another. In it, Hamad is expressing how he feels about the Bush-Cheney ’04 Campaign’s notorious television ad, “Victory”—an ad that, to date, the campaign has refused to withdraw, despite protests from both the U.S. Olympic Committee and the International Olympic Committee (“Bush’s Iraqi, Afghan ‘Freedom’ Ad Farcical,” China Daily, Aug. 25):

You cannot speak about a team that represents freedom. We do not have freedom in Iraq. We have an occupying force. This is one of our most miserable times. Freedom is just a word for the media. We are living in hard times, under occupation.

(For those of you whose computers are set up to view these things online, go to Bush-Cheney ’04. The ad you’re looking for is titled “Victory.”—My goodness. The webpage gives you six different options for viewing it. I’ll stick with buttons and billboards.)

Ignoramuses abound, too. And not just among presidential campaign managers. Here’s the New York Times‘s sports commentator, George Vecsey—a gentleman whose thoughts are pretty highly respected in the American sportsworld: “It is reasonable to ask how Iraqi athletes liked it in the bad old days when Uday Hussein, a ne’er-do-well son of Saddam, was the head of the Iraqi Olympic committee and punished players who displeased him. Uday was killed in a shootout last year, and the Iraqi soccer team has made amazing strides.” (“Game Is Half the Battle For the Iraqi Team,” Aug. 25.)

Vecsey concluded: “The players don’t want to hear this from some American political campaign, but when they go home there will be no torture and maiming.”

Never fails.

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