Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Iraq Olympics London 2012

Baghdad Invest - 09/04/2012 Baghdad.
Documenting the Olympic Dreams of Iraq’s Rowers

Haider Nozad, an Iraqi oarsman, wants to go back to the Olympics.
Last time, in 2008, he and his rowing partner, Hamza Hussein Jebur, almost did not make it because of politics. This time, they may not qualify.
Mr. Nozad and Mr. Jebur failed to do so at the world championships last year. The rowers, who once trained on the brown waters of Baghdad’s Tigris River when it was a macabre dumping ground, will have another chance later this month at races in South Korea.
Tracking the improbable story of these rowers and a third, Ahmed Abdul Salam, as they work to make the 2012 Summer Olympics have been two French filmmakers, Anne-Sophie Le Mauff and Véronique Mauduy. In the last few days, the filmmakers have been releasing new episodes from their French-language production, “Bagdad Galère,” including one, above, filmed at a regatta in Baghdad last year.
The videos open a window onto the challenges still faced by Iraq’s athletes, even as years of war give way to a tense period of relative calm. According to The Associated Press, Iraq’s sports institutions are underfinanced, and their officials often stand accused of sectarian bias and corruption.
That background gives the short videos a feeling of “Cool Runnings” with a serious geopolitical edge.
In the past, Mr. Nozad bumped bodies with his oars as he trained up and down a constricted stretch of the river, so as not to pass to close to jittery guards around government buildings. Now, things are a little better. “The security is still difficult, but it is safer now to move than before and we get better results, because I train more,” he told The A.P. this year.
The French filmmakers, who are financing their project through a combination of small donations and corporate sponsorship, have drawn attention to their work in France, where several news organizations, including the magazine Nouvel Observateur and the news site Rue89, have been posting updates, as well as in Britain, where the 2012 Games will begin in a few months, and in the United States.
Members of the Iraqi team, along with the film crew, traveled to the United States to train in 2010. As Sports Illustrated wrote at the time:
The trip to the States came to fruition after Bill Engeman and Bruce Smith, two coaches on this side of the pond, traveled to Iraq to see the rowers there. Told that it would not be safe for them to conduct a clinic on the Tigris River, they instead went to a more remote training site in the Kurdish sector of the country on Lake Dokan that was considered more secure and less dangerous. On that trip, they arranged the Iraqis’ journey to Princeton. Smith, a coach from Boston-based Community Rowing, was among those on the trip. “I’m just a stupid rowing coach,” he says, “but when you consider what our servicemen and women are doing over there, the least we could do is show a fraction of the courage that they show every day in order to generate some goodwill.”
The trip attracted media attention, transforming the rowers into mini-celebrities and, in the process, turning off their Iraqi national rowing chief, Abdul Salam, who deemed all the coverage bad for training. (Mr. Salam is the father of Ahmed, one of the rowers being profiled by the filmmakers.)

Switching coaches may have had an effect on the athletes, but whether they qualify for the London Games this summer will ultimately depend on the athletes’ determination. Mr. Nozad recently started a family, and Mr. Jebur, at 35, is getting old to compete in the grueling sport.

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