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Recent Iraqi sporting history is sordid, and thanks to its grotesque associations with Uday Hussein, much of it is familiar to Americans. Hussein tortured Iraqi National Team players for their failures. He caned their feat, forced them to kick a concrete ball, and kept scorecards of how many times a player should be beaten depending on how poor the player's performance was. Being an Iraqi soccer player was not an honor or a joy under Saddam. It was a prison sentence.
With the Husseins gone, Iraqi players are dying in different ways. This weekend, on the field, as a player for Buhairat was about to score a clinching goal, he was shot in the head and immediately killed in the final minute of play. A spectator was arrested. The AP report noted that "More Iraqis are turning out for sports events now that security is improving. Major matches in Baghdad are heavily guarded but security in amateur games in smaller cities is often lax."
Yesterday, that lack of security struck again: An 18-year-old Iraqi goalie was shot during a victory celebration, reportedly by an off-duty cop who was firing his weapon into the air in joy over his team's victory. The New York Times closes its report with: "Soccer is easily Iraq’s most popular sport, and celebratory firing by fans is a recurring problem."
And so the post-Saddam tradeoff in Iraq -- democracy for security -- has slowly crept into sports. Under the dictator, players were safe from random gunshot wounds after -- and especially during -- a game. Under the dictator, they were also routinely tortured, beaten, and killed. Any opinion as to which fate Iraqi players prefer is likely as diverse as the nation itself.
But, you know, in the meantime, maybe we could make a law against carrying guns in or around sports stadiums. That's not such a bad place to start.
Eamonn Brennan is a Chicago-based writer, editor and blogger who thinks Landon Donovan could use a little Uday-style motivation from time to time. You can also read him at Yahoo! Sports, FanHouse, Mouthpiece Sports Blog, and Inside The Hall, or at his personal site, eamonnbrennan.com. Follow him on Twitter.