Sunday, July 22, 2007

Perspective: 'They make me feel that we are united again'

Left: A member of the Iraqi soccer team celebrates a goal during the Asian Cup soccer tournament in Bangkok, Thailand.

Even on the hottest summer afternoons when men doze in doorways and children cry from heat rashes, the dusty tracts along the Tigris and the littered wastelands in poor neighborhoods are a welter of activity as young men gather for soccer, the one unifier left in this tortured society.

Iraq is soccer crazy, and despite mortars, bombings and shootings that are sometimes aimed at amateur teams in Baghdad and Ramadi in western Iraq, it remains the national game. While the young play, older men and children gather to watch and women who are walking by steal glances from under their long, black veils.

Excitement reached new heights this week when the Iraqi team advanced to the quarterfinals of the Asian Cup after beating Australia and tying its matches with Thailand and the sultanate of Oman. The team won its first quarterfinal game on Saturday against Vietnam.

“During the two hours of game time, I live in another world,” said Nawfal Hameed, an electric appliance shop owner. “I forget about the car bombs and feel human again, and what is more beautiful is that the team includes all sects — they are all Iraqis to us and they make me feel that we are united again.”

Read the rest at the NY Times