Thu, Aug 03, 2006 - Page 20 News List

Iraq's soccer federation refuses to let coach quit

AP , BAGHDAD

Iraq's soccer federation refused to accept the resignation of the national team's coach who asked to step down last week after receiving death threats, the head of the federation said on Tuesday.

Coach Akram Ahmed Salman and his family left Baghdad for the relative safety of the Kurdish-ruled north after handing in his resignation. He did not elaborate on the threats but said he considered them serious.

"There are people who are making use of the bad security situation in the country by threatening sportsmen," Hussein Saaed told reporters.

"But we cannot let them win. It's a national duty to train the team and represent Iraq internationally," he said.

The federation turned down the resignation "because of the coach's competence and because we have very important games ahead," Saeed said.

He added that threats have recently mounted against sports officials and that some could have come from disgruntled former officials or players.

He said the threats against coach Salman were being dealt with "very seriously."

"We have requested from the president and the top security officials to do all they can to protect our country's sportsmen," Saeed said.

Last month, gunmen kidnapped the chairman of Iraq's National Olympic Committee and at least 30 other officials, including the presidents of the taekwondo and boxing federations, in a brazen daylight raid on a sports conference in the heart of Baghdad.

The abduction came after Iraq's national wrestling coach, a Sunni, was killed in a Shiite district of Baghdad.

The soccer team is currently in the northern city of Irbil -- among the safest parts of Iraq -- for a training camp in preparation for Asian Cup qualifiers.

Saeed said that Salman had been asked to immediately resume his responsibilities there ahead of an important game with the Palestinian team scheduled for Aug. 17.

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