In two weeks, FIFA will be asked to vote to overturn a longstanding ban on Iraq being able to host international matches.
Many in football believe the time has come for that to happen as several state-of-the-art venues have popped up across the country amidst an outpouring of support on social media to give ‘joy’ back to the Iraqi people.
“I tell you my friend, football is the only good thing that my country has and it means so much to the people of my country.”
They are the words of long-serving Iraqi national team defender, Ahmad Ibrahim, who speaking exclusively with FOX Sports Asia, said not only would lifting the ban bring great joy to the entire nation but that it would also turbo-charge the success of a nomadic team that currently calls Tehran home.
“It’s only Iraq that is in this situation for such a long time that we can’t play at home and all the players and the supporters want for us to come home.
“I tell you also, if we can play at home it would mean we would go directly to the World Cup; we have so many good players but we can never play inside our country and this is really hurting us.”
Ibrahim: The ban really hurts Iraq.
September 2, 2011, was the last time that the national team played a competitive match inside the country when they hosted Jordan in the relatively peaceful northern city of Irbil and that means an entire generation of players have grown up knowing nothing other than ‘neutral’ home matches.
Speaking exclusively with FOX Sports Asia, former national star and a member of the only Iraq side to have qualified for the FIFA World Cup (in 1986), Basil Gorges, said the time has come for international football to be welcomed back into Iraq.
“People talk about security problems but we have no problem with our professional league matches in Iraq where the crowds often reach to 50 or 60,000 people or even more and there are is no trouble at these matches.
“We have excellent stadiums, very good pitches and football is very important for all Iraqi people.
Gorges: No security problems at league matches.
“It’s a right of Iraqi people to be able to watch their national team play inside the country and through this game we will send a message of peace to the whole world.
“We, all the Iraqi people, want to see our team play at home and we all believe this is a game of peace and love and we want to show that to the world.”
They are thoughts echoed by the current star, Ibrahim, who also argues that there is no need to worry about any security concerns even as violence continues to tug at the nation.
“Of course we have had a lot of problems in Iraq for more than 15 years but football is different to that.
“If we play football with the national team there will be no problems at all because this is the love of all Iraqi people, it’s the only joy we have in our country,” the UAE based defender told FOX Sports Asia.
That was also the focus of a campaign begun last year to urge FIFA to overturn the ban using the tag-line ‘Football is Our Life – Let us Live’ and now a new push has begun on social media that shows just how widespread support for ending the ban is.
Using the ‘OurJoyIsYourDecision’ hash-tag the movement has exploded across social media thanks to the support of sites such as socceriraq.net and others with fans from right across the country banding together to show a united love for the game.
— ما بعد الهولوكوست (@holokaustosiraq) April 15, 2017
— Dr. Abbas Kadhim (@DrAbbasKadhim) April 18, 2017
Speaking with FOX Sports Asia, one of those supporters, Baghdad-based Yasser Eljuboori, said that all Iraqi supporters are behind this ‘emotional’ move to overturn the ban.
“It’s the opinion firstly of most supporters in Iraq that we don’t deserve this ban as many countries across the world have trouble with security even recently in Germany, yet they are still allowed to play at home.
“It’s very emotional for me and millions of other supporters just to imagine Iraq playing in Baghdad, Bara or Irbil as we need to see our team playing in our homeland in equality with the rest of the world.
“We have the stadiums and full security for any team to play in Iraq and many teams have already announced that they are willing to come and play there.”
Certainly in terms of infrastructure Iraq is up there with the best of the Middle East nations.
The jewel in the crown is the brand-new $95 million sports centre in the central city of Karbala complete with its modern 30,000-seater stadium but other venues that have recently been built or where construction is well underway also showcase the capabilities of Iraq to easily host those matches.
A 35,000 capacity venue in Nasaf is nearing completion as is a 10,000-seater stadium in the southeastern city of Maysan whilst a 65,000 capacity venue in Basra is also a state-of-the-art facility that is the envy of many nations across the Gulf nations and beyond.
— Ameer (@Ameer_Alali) March 10, 2017
Whilst nobody is denying that Iraq is free of the scourge of violence, the conflict has hardly touched the professional elements of Iraqi football in recent years and with the venues and security in place to ensure there are no troubles the time then is long overdue to hand back one of the few joys that a war-torn Iraqi population have.
As the current national star, Ahmed Ibrahim, noted this ‘can change everything’ for the country and its people.
“We have so many players, so many coaches inside Iraq – and many of them come from foreign countries – and we have no problem with violence in our football there.
“We have great stadiums and my people they love football so much.”