posted on Dec, 3 2003 @ 10:44 PM
Associated Press - December 2, 2003
KARBALA, Iraq (AP) - Iraqi boxers have begun a tough climb toward their first Olympic appearance since 1988, bringing with them new supplies, high
expectations and bolstered spirits.
Iraq's 24-member team visited Karbala on Tuesday for a competition with local boxers, who tried unsuccessfully to displace fighters on the national
Coach Abdul-Zahara Jawad said his boxers, despite minimal time to train for Olympic qualifiers, are determined to make it to the Summer Games, Aug.
``With God's will and with the help of the Americans, we will achieve good results and raise the Iraqi flag in Athens,'' he said.
Using seized funds from Saddam Hussein's former regime, the U.S.-led occupation authority has provided equipment and salaries to the boxing team,
which has a two-ring training camp.
Team members were provided with shoes and gloves, something they had to buy themselves in the 1990s, when Saddam's eldest son, Odai, headed the Iraqi
National Olympic Committee, boxer Majid Khitan said.
``Our Olympic committee was run by cruel people who didn't know anything about sports,'' he said. ``They were corrupt people only looking for bribes
Odai was well known for torturing and jailing athletes who failed to do well in competitions. Boxers also complained he cared only about soccer,
leaving few resources for other sports.
``We feel much better. Our salaries are good, our needs are met. The Americans are offering moral support,'' said Zuhier Khudier, another boxer. ``Now
we will be motivated by national pride, not by fear of Odai.''
Although Iraq's Olympic committee was dissolved by the International Olympic Committee earlier this year, the IOC has invited Iraqi athletes to
participate in Athens.
To get to the Olympics, the Iraqi boxing team will have to do well in qualifiers in the Philippines in January, in China in March, and in Pakistan in
The Iraqis also have an American, Maurice ``Termite'' Watkins, helping to train them. After Tuesday's bouts in Karbala, 75 miles south of Baghdad, the
boxers carried Watkins on their shoulders, chanting ``Iraq is back!'' - their slogan for the Olympics.
``We have a very good chance,'' said Watkins, who fought for the WBC 140-pound title in 1980 on the undercard of the Muhammad Ali-Larry Holmes bout.
``We have a long way to go, But Iraq is back.''