Friday, 15 January 2010, 09:17 GMT
Kurdistan Olympic Committee becomes an issue

Kurdish girls hold Kurdistan's flag on opening day of the 2009 VIVA World Cup in Padania. PRESS PHOTO

By Zakaria Muhammed
The Kurdish Globe

In spite of obstacles, Kurdish sports seen as having "bright future"

Having two Olympic committees in Iraq creates a problematic situation, confusing many athletes in Kurdistan Region about how to deal with sports issues.

After the great 1991 Kurdish Uprising against the former regime, all governmental agencies including sports foundations withdrew in Kurdistan Region. Formation of the first KRG Cabinet enticed political officials to establish a sports committee to fill the gap made after cutting off relations with the Iraqi sports foundations.

Equivalent to Iraq's Olympic Committee (IOC), the High Sports Committee was founded in Kurdistan. It continued working for almost 11 years, when in 2006 sports officials decided to change the committee's name to the Kurdistan Olympic Committee (KOC).

Kurdish sports clubs have gone through notable administrative and financial crises that sometimes have paralyzed the clubs' activities for having two Olympic committees expecting each other to respond to the sports officials' demands, and as a result most of the sports issues remain outstanding.

"We do not have a specific law so far to identify the authorities and duties of Iraq's and Kurdistan Olympic committees, but there are some sections in the Iraqi Constitution giving Kurdistan regional privileges to have an independent Olympic committee," said Dr. Alan Qadir, Kurdistan KOC secretary since April 2009.

Thirty members of the general committee, 13 executive committee members, and four representatives in four provinces of Erbil, Kirkuk, Duhok, and Suleimaniyah constitute the KOC organizational chart. The KOC supervises 30 sports federations in the region.

Dr. Qadir added: "Having an Olympic Committee in Kurdistan doesn't signify we ignore Iraq's Olympic Committee, as some Baghdad sports officials think so. Rather, it means Kurdistan as any semi-autonomous region in the world has a sports agency to manage sports leagues and compose working plans for the teams."

Despite working together and having semi-coordinating relations, according to Dr. Qadir, there are misunderstandings between the IOC and KOC concerning their monetary system of working, especially in the Kurdish provinces.

The most notable issue the sports teams are suffering from is they can't be given a green light by the KOC to participate in the international tournaments without resorting to the IOC, as the KOC is not legally recognized by the international sports committee and doesn't have enough power in the matter of international contributions.

"I think Iraq's sports officials have no objections for having a sports agency in Kurdistan similar to what is available in Baghdad as long as it is not called 'Olympic Committee.' Their main concern is with the Olympic terminology that we use in Kurdistan."

"I believe the current disagreements will end if the Olympic Committee in Kurdistan gets changed into its former name [High Sports Committee]," he said.

A law project was prepared in 2007 by sports officials and was sent to Kurdistan Parliament in an attempt to get votes to legalize the KOC, but it did not end well. He believes if the KOC had been legalized by a law passed by Kurdish Parliament, Kurdish athletes and clubs would not have suffered the lack of a self-run system.

In Dr. Qadir's view, now is the right time for Kurdistan sports federations, especially the football federation, to work on how to become an official member of the international federations.

"If in any region the main six sports federations become members of international federations, an Olympic committee will automatically be required to manage the federations," he explained.

In the last three years, Kurdistan Football Federation (KFF) has become the most active federation--particularly after forming the Kurdistan national team.

"We try through taking part in the VIVA world cup to prove that we are capable of playing at the international levels, and we try to draw the international federation's attention to the current sports development in Kurdistan," said Saffen Kanaby, KFF president.

For nations unable to compete in the FIFA World Cup, they have been given an opportunity to take part in the VIVA World Cup, which is held every two years and organized by the New Federation Board, an umbrella association for nations unaffiliated with FIFA.

"We visited Paris on December 5 and had a meeting with 17 stateless regions' representatives discussing several issues including preparation for the 2010 VIVA Cup in Malta and the possibility of hosting the 2012 VIVA Cup in Kurdistan."

Kanaby is proud that he is now a VIVA bureau executive member, and thinks that it will be a historical achievement for all Kurdish people if Kurdistan hosts the 2012 Viva World cup.

"The FIFA World Cup started just like VIVA at first, as it was a small tournament. If we want to progress, we need to shine at VIVA."

In most respects, Kanaby regards Kurdistan Region like the Catalonia region of Spain, which has a strong team with many international football stars.

Trying to build good relations, Kanaby sent a letter to the Catalonia team congratulating them on the occasion of beating the Argentina national team last month, and asked them if they could arrange a friendly match one day.

Concerning the IOC's decision resulting in the dissolution of the IFF, banning Iraq and Kurdistan from international sports, and lastly Erbil FC's removal from the AFC Cup, Kanaby said, "We could find some ways allowing Erbil FC to take part in the AFC Cup, but it would end up with rising tensions between Kurdistan sports officials and their Iraqi counterparts. That was not our aim."

Kurdish sports observers think that sports in Kurdistan has a bright future, like the United Kingdom regions Wales and Scotland that participate even in the FIFA World Cup.