Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Soccer, Identity and Reconciliation

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 30th July, 2007

younis-mahmoud.jpgLast summer, I flew from Bahrain to Dubai with the Iraqi national football team. As our plane was severely delayed, we had time to get to know each other in the departure lounge, in the sort of chummy way guys do in the Middle East. They were thrilled to know I had been to Baghdad (even if it was before any of the players were born). And now I am really chuffed that they have won the Asian Cup Final, captain Younis Mahmoud’s header in the 71st minute giving them a 1:0 victory over Saudi Arabia.

Last night, the area around Edgware Road — London’s Little Arabia — was awash with celebrating Iraqis: Sunni, Shia and Kurds alike, united in their joy at this frankly unexpected triumph. Even more exhilirating was the TV footage of the fans in Baghdad going wild and taking to the streets, sectarian conflicts pushed aside in a burst of national pride. Even the suicide bombers took the night off. As Richard Caborn, England’s World Cup bid ambassador, commented today, ‘this shows the power of football that it can unite a nation where there are such problems.’ Alas, Younis Mahmoud and his team-mates won’t be going home to a UK-style victory parade in an open-top bus. The security situation is just too dangerous for them to go to Baghdad. But as a long-standing friend of Iraq, I see this soccer-based common identity as a glimmer of hope for peace and reconciliation, however long that might take.


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