Mon, Nov 06, 2017 - Page 11 News List

Iraq dispute kick-starts crisis for Kurdish sports

AFP, BAGHDAD

Sports clubs and players in Iraqi Kurdistan are facing the threat of a spell on the sidelines as the dispute between the region and Baghdad sees matches suspended and away trips canceled.

For the first time ever, two basketball teams from the region will miss the start of the Iraqi league season, after Kurdish authorities and the Iraqi government went from a war of words about a vote for independence to armed clashes over disputed territories.

To avoid any potential combustible clashes, Iraq’s volleyball federation has come up with a novel solution — putting all the Kurdish clubs in the league in a sub-division of their own.

“The players won’t need to go to other towns in Iraq,” federation president Manaf Fadel said.

Last year, Kurdish team Peshmerga — named after the region’s famed security force — won the league. Just a week ago, their namesake fighters were exchanging mortar fire with Iraqi troops.

Soccer coach Sakfan Said is gearing up for a crack at the Iraqi championship with his team Zakho, but now he fears that he might not get the chance.

In 2015, the Iraqi national team inaugurated his club’s stadium in their home town near the Turkish border. After the latest tensions that seems like a long time ago.

“We don’t know if we will take part in the championship,” Said said. “It is very important for us to play in the league, but we are ready for all outcomes.”

Club president Abdullah Majid’s beloved Arbil — the team from the Kurdish capital city — are no strangers to the antagonisms that still run deep in Iraq.

Last season, the squad withdrew after facing anti-Kurdish chants in the Shiite holy city of Najaf.

This time the fallout seems like it might be more serious, although he hopes the situation can be resolved by the time the season starts later this month.

Ironically, the team’s stadium is one of only three in Iraq where FIFA says the national team can play owing to security worries in the conflict-wracked country.

For Arbil’s goalkeeper Serhank Mohsen, whatever happens, he is determined that the feud between the central authorities and Kurdistan will not keep him out of action.

“We want to play in the Iraqi league, but if we are not allowed to then we will just play in Kurdistan,” Mohsen said.

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