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August 18, 2008

Iraq Can Compete In Beijing Olympics

I love it when a sad story has a happy ending. This one in particular is very heart warming. It’s not as happy as it would have been if the situation had been worked out a couple days before, but still, some of Iraq’s athletes will be able to go to the Olympics.

The other day when I heard that Iraq would not be allowed to participate in the Olympics I was rather sad for them. There was this picture of a sprinter on CNN and she just looked totally devastated. It was enough to bring tears to my eyes. I know that in the wake of all that has happened in Iraq a trip to the Olympics might seem trivial but it’s really not.

Sometimes you just want to hold on to that one little thing that you believe in. Athletes believe in the sports that they participate in and if they can have a chance to compete with the world’s best, for those few moments, nothing else matters. To a country like Iraq that only has a few athletes going to the Olympics the games must mean that much more.

Well, the great news is that Iraq will be able to go to the Olympics. Last minutes talks lead to a decision by the Iraqi government to hold free elections for the National Olympic committee with international observation. Wednesday is the deadline for submitting competitors’ names. The sad news is the five of the seven athletes that were slated to go to the Olympics can not go now. The deadlines for their sporting events have passed already. That leaves just two athletes to represent the country.

However, I think that this is a victory. Iraq has won one bronze medal since they started going to the Olympics in 1948. Yet, they have not given up. They still are producing athletes and trying to win. Yes, the two athletes will be going to Beijing under the wildcard program, which means they did not meet qualifying standards. With so many prominent athletes losing their lives over the past few years, it is so important for these two athletes to get the chance to go to Beijing.

Sport can bring people together and right now, Iraq needs to be brought together. To go in a delegation of two athletes is a brave and inspiring thing to do. We probably won’t see these two athletes on the medal podiums but they will be in Beijing to say that they country still exist and they are still trying. Despite whatever is thrown their way.

In the midst of massive air pollution and human rights issues and all of the things that have marred this Olympic Games, this is a great story. Even though most people won’t care much about it, this is one of those stories that should be leading the headlines. Sure I do want to know that the smog is so thick in Beijing you can’t see the person next to you, but I also want to hear some of those heart warming Olympic stories that make the Games worth while.

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