Olympic Officials Reverse Iraq Ban

LAUSANNE, Switzerland -- The International Olympic Committee ruled Tuesday that Iraq could participate in the Beijing games, reversing itself after the government pledged to ensure the independence of its national Olympics panel.

The decision followed last-minute talks between Iraqi officials and the IOC in Lausanne, Switzerland, before a Wednesday deadline to submit competitors' names for the athletics events and 10 days before the opening ceremony in Beijing.

Iraq's National Olympic Committee was dissolved by the Baghdad government in May, prompting the IOC to suspend the Mideast country from the Olympics for political interference.

The IOC had insisted the old committee be reinstated even though four members were kidnapped two years ago. Their fates remain unknown.

A compromise was worked out after mediators from Germany and China became involved in talks.

Iraq is expected to send two athletes to Beijing. Five other hopefuls in archery, judo, rowing and weightlifting lost their chance to compete when a deadline to select teams for other sports passed with no break in the stalemate.

The following is the IOC's statement on the reversal of the Iraq Olympics ban:

An agreement between the Iraqi government and the International Olympic Committee on Tuesday clears the way for Iraqi participation in the Olympic Games in Beijing.

In a productive meeting at the IOC headquarters in Lausanne, the IOC and the Government of Iraq agreed on a series of steps that will lead to a fully functioning, independent National Olympic Committee in Iraq. The agreement re-establishes the independent NOC of Iraq which will be allowed to take part in the Beijing Games.

Iraqi athletes will compete in Beijing under the Iraqi flag, led by coaches and team leaders selected by the independent Iraqi National Olympic Committee. Five government representatives will be invited by the IOC as observers to the Games in Beijing. The agreement also calls for the transparent and fair election of a new, independent Iraqi National Olympic Committee, no later than the end of November 2008. This process will be overseen by the IOC and the Olympic Council of Asia and will be held in cooperation with the Government of Iraq, and in accordance with the Olympic Charter.

"I commend the government of Iraq for reaching an agreement that serves the long-term interest of Iraqi athletes," IOC President Jacques Rogge said. "We have said all along that we want to see Iraqi athletes in Beijing."

The IOC helped establish an independent Iraqi National Olympic Committee in February 2004, and has provided substantial financial support and other assistance to Iraqi athletes. In May this year, the Iraqi government sought to disband the independent NOC and replace it with one headed by a government official — a clear violation of the Olympic Charter regarding government interference.

The IOC responded on 4 June by suspending the government-imposed committee. The IOC urged Iraqi officials to resolve the matter and issued an open invitation for a meeting in Lausanne.

The deadline for competitors entering the Beijing Olympic Games for all events except athletics passed on 23 July. As a result, the slots for five Iraqi athletes have been redistributed, but two Iraqi athletics competitors will have the opportunity to compete in Beijing.

"We look forward to seeing the Iraqi flag in Beijing," Rogge said.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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