A former Iraqi athlete paid to advise the U.S.-led group reorganizing sports in that country was fired after expressing concerns that the official chosen to head the sports ministry was too closely associated with the late Udai Hussein, the former Olympic committee chairman with a long record of corruption and human rights abuses.
Issam Thamer Al-Diwan, a volleyball player who was tortured by Udai, said his contract was terminated and he was immediately flown back to his home in San Diego after his objection to Abdul Razak Al-Taey, a former volleyball federation chief in Iraq, became known.
"He has a bad history," Al-Diwan said of Al-Taey. "He worked for Udai."
Don Eberly, the Bush Administration official in charge of Iraqi sports on an interim basis, confirmed Friday to ESPN.com that Al-Diwan was dismissed.
A naturalized American citizen who left Iraq in 1991, Al-Diwan — the second leading athlete in recent weeks to clash with Eberly over the choice of Al-Taey — was one of four Iraqi exiles officially advising Eberly.
Eberly said Al-Diwan violated his contract by speaking publicly about his concerns, and he disagrees with Al-Diwan's assessment of Al-Taey, who has expressed interest in running the new Olympic committee.
While acknowledging that Al-Taey played a role in the former sports apparatus, he said Al-Taey was vetted by the Coalition Provisional Authority and not identified as a senior Ba'ath Party official.
"If you look at any of the 10 or 15 people that could serve as an alternative to (Al-Taey), you would have the same exact issues," Eberly said. "There are those who basically believe that if you were ever involved in sports in Iraq, or were seen in the presence of Udai, or even if you had a Baghdad address, you're an evil person. I've had to be firm in saying that is the wrong way to think."
‘Alive and Well’
U.S. officials are anxious to get the Iraqi sports culture moving again to restore the national life, and give citizens something else to focus on beyond the foreign occupation.
This week, 54,000 soccer balls — donated by Major League Soccer and other U.S. organizations — arrived in Iraq, to be distributed around the country by troops.
Sports facilities gradually are being repaired and turned over to the Iraqi people. The national soccer team has begun playing games again, said Coalition Provisional Authority spokesman Thomas Basile.
The IOC on Wednesday formally invited Iraq to participate in the 2004 summer Olympics. Training in six sports — weightlifting, wrestling, boxing, shooting, taekwondo and table tennis — has been made a priority, with the hope of sending athletes from each of those sports to Athens, Basile said.
The soccer team may be unable to make it to Greece because of the war, during which it missed qualifying games.
"Sports is alive and well in Iraq," Basile said.
But the leadership of the movement remains a contentious issue.
In a special report, "Results in Iraq: 100 Days Toward Security and Freedom," the White House cited "10 Signs of Cultural Rebirth." The No. 1 sign: "Iraqi Olympic Committee is reconstituted without fear from Udai Hussein," a statement it supported by a May 15 comment from former national team soccer player and torture victim Sharar Haydar.