Iraq’s banned Olympic Committee has opened negotiations to try to regain its place at the Beijing Games after being shut out for political interference in Olympic affairs, a spokesman said on Friday.
But a top sports official suggested Iraq was not willing to make the concessions demanded by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which on Thursday upheld its ban imposed after Iraq’s government replaced its national Olympic panel with members not recognized by the IOC.
The IOC said the move violated Olympic rules on government intervention — and noted that time was running out to try to salvage even a portion of the seven-member Olympic team for the games beginning Aug. 8.
Jazair al-Sahlani, spokesman for the Iraqi Olympic committee, said “high-level” talks had begun with IOC envoys and international mediators from Germany and China. He declined to give further details, but predicted a deal was within reach.
“We still have the hope the Iraqi flag will fly at the opening ceremony in Beijing,” he said.
But Basil Abdul Mahdi, an adviser to the government’s Ministry of Youth and Sport, said there would be “no retreat” in the decision to replace the Olympic Committee.
The government claimed the old panel was corrupt and lacked legitimacy because it was missing too many members — including four members of the committee, including its chief, who were kidnapped two years ago. Their fates remain unknown.
An IOC spokeswoman, Emmanuelle Moreau, said the deadline to finalize athletics competitors is Wednesday and Iraq could field a partial team if the government reverses its decision.
That means two members of Iraq’s Olympic team — a discus thrower and sprinter — could still make the Games. The door, however, was closed to the others, said Moreau, speaking from IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland.
“We would like to see the Iraqi athletes compete in Beijing,” Moreau said.
The Iraqi decision and refusal to compromise has angered athletes and risks aggravating Iraq’s sectarian rifts. The Youth and Sports Ministry is dominated by Shiites, who also control the government.