Iraqi team barred from taking part in Asian Games

September 21, 1990|By Robert Benjamin | Robert Benjamin,Beijing Bureau of The Sun

BEIJING -- The Olympic Council of Asia voted yesterday to bar Iraq's national team from participating in the Asian Games, thereby heading off a threatened boycott by a half-dozen Persian Gulf states of the 16-day international meet that begins here tomorrow.

"This was the small kick-out, and now we need the big kick-out of Iraq from our country," the president of Kuwait's National Olympic Committee, Sheik Ahmad Fahd al-Sabah, said following the hotly politicked decision.

Sheik Ahmad -- whose father, the OCA's president, was slain in last month's invasion of Kuwait -- also vowed that yesterday's vote was only the start of an international movement to prevent Iraq from competing in the 1992 Olympics. "Now, I think, we have just opened the door," he said.

Iraqi Olympic team officials, however, charged that the vote was rigged by OCA leaders and violated the council's constitution. "It was all a game," said Abdul Karim al-Mullah, chief of Iraq's delegation to the Asian Games. "People were well-paid to arrange the situation from the beginning."

Delegates leaving the 30-minute-long, closed-door meeting of 36 of the council's 38 members said that 27 delegations had voted to expel Iraq and three had voted against the expulsion, with six abstentions.

Though lopsided, the tally barely gave the council the required two-thirds vote to bar the Iraqi team.

The vote was by secret ballot, but the council's acting leader, Roy De Silva of Sri Lanka, said that the two other votes with Iraq probably were Yemen and Palestine.

Dr. De Silva called "absolutely false" Iraqi officials' charges that the vote was improper and its outcome pre-arranged. "Iraq says that sports and politics shouldn't be mixed," he said. "But who does sports and who does politics? Human beings."

The decision to expel Iraq was the focus of sensitive political negotiations within the OCA over the last few weeks. It came as tens of thousands of Beijing residents turned out last night for fireworks and festivities marking the arrival in Tiananmen Square of four "Asian Olympic torches" that had been carried for weeks from four distant corners of China.

China's support for holding the vote and its apparent support, however tacit, for Kuwait in the vote probably earned it some diplomatic points with most gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia, with whom China recently established official ties.

Kuwait, which had intended to send 300 athletes, coaches and officials to the Asian Games, managed to bring a 65-member delegation, defying Iraq's contention that Kuwaiti athletes should compete in the games under the Iraqi banner.

At the onset of their meeting yesterday, OCA delegates, including those from Iraq, stood in silence for two minutes in memory of the council's president, Sheik Fahd al-Ahmad al-Sabah, the younger brother of Kuwait's ruling emir, who was killed fighting Iraqi troops.

The secretary-general of the Iraqi Olympic Committee, Basil Hassan, said his nation's delegates did this "because we are Moslem and respect heaven. We are a little bit sorry for his loss. He killed two of our soldiers. It was suicide for him."

Responding to this comment later, the slain prince's son, Sheik Ahmad, who took over his father's role as head of Kuwait's Olympic Committee, said: "The Iraqis are good actors. They didn't want to be negative in the meeting."

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