The biggest sport in Iraq is football (soccer, American), like most Arab countries. Matches are played in all 18 governorates at the local level. There is a unified national team called the Lions of Mesopotamia “Usood Al-Rafidain” اسود الرافدين. This team is a member of FIFA, the Asian Football Confederation, the West Asian Football Federation and the Union of Arab Football Associations.
Iraq’s national football team is one of the premiere teams in the Arab League. They won the AFC Asian Cup in 2007, the West Asia Championship in 2002, the AFC National Team of The Year in 2003 and 2007, four Arab Nations Cup in 1964, 1966, 2985, 1988 and three Gulf Cup of Nations in 1988, 1984 and 1979.
Stadiums of Iraq
Football matches are played in over 46 stadiums throughout the country. The most famous stadiums are the Al-Shaab stadium (the ‘People’s’ Stadium) in Baghdad, built in 1966, with 35,000 seats; and the Basra International Stadium in Basra, built in 2013, with 65,000 seats. Basra International Stadium was funded by the Iraqi government, along with a secondary stadium of 20,000 seats, four Five Star hotels and other sports buildings and facilities. Al-Shaab is famous for attracting thousands of viewers, filling the capacity of the stadium and standing outside to listen to the games.
2014 Gulf Tournament Withdrawal
In 2013 Iraq withdrew from the Gulf Cup tournament. The match was initially to be held in the ever developing southern governorate of Basrah, but was moved to Saudi Arabia. Iraq boycotted the tournament in response. It is assumed the reason it was moved was because of increasing Islamic religious tensions.
Asian Cup – 2014
In a nail-biting match (1-0), Iraq played against Saudi Arabia and won the Asian Cup U22. Iraqi teammate Amjad Kalaf was named best player.
Other Popular Sports
Other Iraqi popular sports include:
Iraq and The Olympic Games
In 1948 Iraq created the Iraqi National Olympic Committee (INOC) and participated in the Summer Games of 1948, in London for the first time. After a twelve year absence, Iraq returned to the Summer Games of 1960, winning their first medal in weightlifting.
Here is a clip of one of the most famous goals in Iraq’s history of football. After years of international absence from matches, the Iraqi team was led to victory by 26 year old Younis Mahmoud, in 2007. Here they score the winning goal for the AFC Asian Cup.
Uday Hussein vs. Iraqi Football
The subject of football in Iraq cannot be accurately explained without the mention of Uday Hussein, Saddam’s Hussein son. He was appointed chairman of the Iraqi National Olympic Committee and the Iraqi Football Federation by his father’s federal government. He was known to brutally torture opposing players, teams and rivals.
Specialized Sport Court – 2014
The Ministry of Iraq ruled to form a specialized Court of Sports in Iraq in 2014. This special court’s agenda is to settle disputes that arise within sports institutions. This will negate the necessity for outside interference from other countries when issues arise.