Iraqi soccer team: Ungrateful?

David Whitley from the Orlando Sentinel thinks so:

The Olympics end Sunday, NBC willing. If they gave an overall gold medal for blatant ingratitude, the winner would be the Iraq soccer team.

Next to it on the medal stand would be the International Olympic Committee, which long ago retired the gold medal for hypocrisy. The fact the official Olympic cognac sippers made it was wholly expected. The sad surprise was how the feel-good story from Iraq had such a bitter tinge.

It was all George W. Bush’s fault, of course. His re-election campaign used the presence of Iraq and Afghanistan in a commercial.

“This Olympics, there will be two more free nations,” the voiceover says. “And two fewer terrorist regimes.”

The official reaction was as laughable as it was predictable. The U.S. Olympic Committee wanted the ad pulled, saying using “Olympic” and “Olympiad” for political or commercial purposes is prohibited.

Somebody better tell that to McDonald’s and other major sponsors, who apparently paid $60 million each to not plaster the Olympic rings all over their commercial products.

The IOC has become a subsidiary of Coca-Cola and the boys. Spectators who unknowingly walk into Olympic sites sipping a Pepsi are forced to pour it out. IOC marketing official Gerhard Heiberg put down his Big Mac long enough to say, “We don’t want to get involved in politics. We are neutral.”

Sure. If Fidel Castro dished out $60 million, the IOC would happily require athletes to recite “The Communist Manifesto” instead of the Olympic oath.

“Neutrality” allowed Iraq to remain an IOC member in good standing while Saddam Hussein let his boy Odai turn the country’s Olympic organization into his personal sadistic play toy. Hundreds of athletes were tortured and at least 50 killed, according to human rights groups.

Iraq’s Olympic teams dwindled from 43 members in 1980 to four in 2000. It was apparently hard to walk the Opening Ceremonies after Odai had your feet cut off for missing a penalty kick.

But Saddam was like the weather. Everybody talked about him but nobody did anything. If the world could look the other way while mass graves filled up, the IOC could certainly do it while Odai was having athletes slashed and dragged through sewage.

So which visiting countries got the loudest cheers this year? A free Iraq and Afghanistan. That one they don’t credit to Bush, of course.

Nobody is saying either country has been transformed from a tyrannical cesspool into Norway. I happen to agree with John Kerry’s latest Iraq invasion position, pending the next one – good idea, bad post-war execution.

The primary assertion of the Bush ad is indisputable. If not for the United States, those smiling, waving Iraqis would not have been in Athens. And this is the thanks we get:

“How will (Bush) meet his God having slaughtered so many men and women?” soccer midfielder Ahmed Manajid said.

If he wasn’t at the Olympics, Manajid said he’d have been in Fallujah fighting U.S. forces. I can see why a soccer player might not want to be used as a campaign tool. I can certainly see how he doesn’t like his town turned into a killing zone, even if Saddam just did it without CNN around.

Please make sure to read the entire piece.