Kudos to the IOC and everyone involved in sorting out the mess regarding Iraq's national Olympic committee today. Iraq has been cleared to send a team to Beijing; the only awful part of this story is that it didn't happen in time to clear all of the athletes, only those competing in track and field - of which there are just two.
Four years ago in Athens, Iraq's Olympic soccer team gave us one of the biggest feel-good headlines of the entire event, making the semifinals and raising their country's esteem at a time when Iraq's future seemed to hang in the balance. So when word came that Iraq had been banned by the IOC from sending a team to the Beijing Olympics - because of political interference when the government dissolved the Iraqi Olympic Committee - it was a huge blow to a country where games aren't just hobbies - they're literally life-savers.
In 2003 Afghanistan sent two athletes to the world track and field championships in Paris. I don't remember a single other thing that happened the day Afghanistan's first athlete, Lima Azimi, competed. She ran the 100 meter heats and finished dead last by seconds. But everyone watched that race like it really meant something - the world-class racers had to take a backseat for at least one heat of that competition. Sure, there were cynical journalists sneering that she wasn't worth the ink. But I wasn't one of them and never could be - Azimi was a symbol of sport as an agent for freedom, achievement, and pride, and I was happy to be there to see her run.
So Iraq is back in the Olympics, but because of the political brouhaha - and through absolutely no fault of their own - five athletes missed the entrance deadlines set by their individual sports. Here's a suggestion: perhaps the Olympic entrance guidelines need to be a little less stringent for war-torn countries than for first-world superpowers. The Olympic Truce is a part of the Olympic movement, after all, recognizing that during every Olympics, somewhere in the world somebody is at war. Things don't always go well in war zones. If there's somebody at the IOC who can flick the right switch and get Iraq's full participation in Beijing - which means allowing all of the athletes originally slated to be there to compete - I'd send that person flowers.
As Ali al-Dabbagh, an Iraq government spokesperson, told the AP, "sport is really important for us in Iraq right now. It brings the people together." In this case, size does matter. Seven Iraqi athletes earned the chance to compete in Beijing; seven should be in the opening ceremony a week from Friday.