|Friday, July 25
Updated: July 26, 8:53 AM ET
Will Uday's legacy live on?
By Tom Farrey
Sharar Haydar was at home in London when one of his brothers in Baghdad notified him by text message.
Haydar, a former Iraqi national soccer team member, was among the first Iraqi athletes to alert the Western world to the horrors of Uday Hussein, that nation's former Olympic and soccer chief. Unlike other exiled athletes who were overcome with fear, he had risked the safety of his family by detailing the torture of athletes, including himself. When International Olympic Committee officials came to speak with him in February, he berated them for a half hour for not taking action sooner, for looking the other way all these years while athletes got their feet caned for nothing more than making a bad pass.
He calmed down. The IOC people got to ask their questions. They went home -- and dissolved the Iraqi National Olympic Committee. It was a first in Olympic history.
Now his tormentor's eyelids are shuttered for good, his bald head splattered with blood. The world got to see the pictures Thursday, released by the U.S. government.
He's glad his country is rid of Uday. But he wishes Uday wasn't exterminated.
But even in looking forward, there are practical concerns. Notably: Who exactly did Uday's dirty work? It's an important question as the Iraqi people and, more immediately, the U.S.-led civilian group currently governing Iraq, the Coalition Provisional Authority, try to figure out which Iraqis to trust in rebuilding sports in that country.
In May, the IOC dissolved the Iraqi National Olympic Committee as a way to prevent Uday -- still listed then as its president -- or his former associates from continuing to run sports in the country. Its executive board declared that "no person involved in any abuse committed by the previous administration will be allowed to participate in the reconstruction" of the new national Olympic committee.
Don Eberly, the Bush Administration's senior advisor for the ministries of sports and youth, also had stated his intentions to start fresh. He told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, "The first priority will be to build a new approach from scratch, removing whatever remnants that might exist of the Ba'ath party," the corrupt, ruling political arm under Saddam Hussein and his sons, Uday and Qusay.
Case in point: A contentious dispute over the influential role of Abdul Razak al-Taey, whom Eberly has installed as his deputy in the sports ministry. Eberly likes him because he is well-connected, an asset in a chaotic country that needs to get its sports culture moving again, if for nothing else than to get some of the young, unemployed men off the streets and focused on something other than the U.S. occupation.
"He seems to know the sports scene as well as anyone here," Eberly said.
But Haydar argues that al-Taey was too close to the former regime, which he had served in a variety of roles, including head of the volleyball federation, for many years. He said those concerns were ignored when he told Eberly that al-Taey was corrupt and could not be trusted.
"He called me a troublemaker," Haydar said of Eberly.
Haydar, another member of Eberly's transitional team, has offered to resign over the flap. He said Eberly -- the former White House deputy director of faith-based initiatives -- is trying to do right by Iraqi sports but that he is handicapped to make the best decisions because of the language barrier and his lack of familiarity with the Iraqi sports culture.
"Uday's dead but his tail is still there," said Haydar, who fled Iraq in 1998, returning only after the war. "These people who worked for him are like the mafia. They're very clever, very organized."
Eberly, reached by phone Friday in Baghdad, said he is aware that al-Taey held various positions in the Uday's sports apparatus but that he stands by his deputy because, according to the coalition authority system that vets Iraqi candidates, he was not identified as a "senior" Ba'ath party member. Eberly said he has eliminated more than 400 coaches and officials connected with the old regime and "most" of Uday's former Olympic committee officials.
"It's hard to convey the extent to which this man controlled the sports community," Eberly said of Uday. "It was hard not to associate with Uday. But we would have very little credibility with the Iraqi people if we worked with people from the past (with strong links to Uday)."
Eberly conceded, though, that "evaluating the past practices and dealings of people here is very, very difficult." The task was made more troublesome when bombs during the war destroyed much of the Iraqi National Olympic Committee headquarters in the hunt for Saddam's leadership. However, the building housed important documents athletes hoped could offer details on previous abuses.
Upcoming elections at the club and sports federation levels will further cleanse the leadership, as athletes often know about Uday's former loyalists and associates, Eberly said.
"The only people raising questions about Mr. Al-Taey are those with a political agenda," Eberly said.
Eberly has the support of the IOC, whose officials on Thursday concluded a 10-day tour of Iraq and have discussed the concerns about al-Taey. "The IOC has not declared that all people from the former regime should be" excluded from the new structure, said Michel Filliau, an IOC official. "It only applies to those who have been indicted (for abuses)."
So now, as Haydar says, we move forward -- and fast, in some ways. Eberly expects to let the sports federations hold elections in September to create a new Iraqi National Olympic Committee. The IOC has identified about 25 Iraqi athletes who could compete in the Athens Games, as well as the soccer team, if it qualifies, Filliau said. Many national Olympic committees, from the United States and elsewhere, are stepping up to help train those athletes. Eberly is beginning to succeed in his goal of getting thousands of soccer balls into the country, giving kids something to do. The U.S. Army recently started a large youth soccer league in Mosul, recovering some of the goodwill that has been lost by the military occupying the national soccer stadium.
And, most significantly, Uday will never run anything again.
"Until Uday was killed, there were still a lot of very good athletes who were concerned to speak up about (their abuse)," said Issam Thamer al-Diwan, a former Iraqi volleyball player who is working for Eberly and back in Baghdad for the first time since 1991 when he was tortured. "They knew that Uday and his bodyguards were still in Iraq and could kill them. Now they can talk."
Too bad that perhaps the worst sports criminal ever cannot be forced to do the same.
Tom Farrey is a senior writer with ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.