Soc­cer re­turns to Mo­sul — un­en­cum­bered by IS rules

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD -

MO­SUL, Iraq — Af­ter months of fight­ing, Mo­sul res­i­dents can fi­nally prac­tice their fa­vorite game again at a soc­cer field in the east­ern part of the city — and this time with­out the re­stric­tions im­posed by Is­lamic State group mil­i­tants.

The venue was closed for al­most four months while Iraqi forces and mil­i­tants fought a fierce bat­tle for the city. Signs of war are still vis­i­ble, with bro­ken win­dows and dam­aged fences sur­round­ing the pitch and with holes in the rooftop of the can­teen.

“It was closed for three to four months and we re­opened af­ter the lib­er­a­tion,” said Abu Laith Mo­hammed, man­ager of the fa­cil­ity.

The field was al­lowed to stay open when IS con­trolled the area, but the mil­i­tants im­posed strict rules on the game, in­clud­ing a dress code that forced play­ers to cut teams’ in­signia from their jer- seys and a ban on ref­er­ees’ whis­tles.

“It wasn’t as much fun,” said Obeyda Mo­hammed, 26, af­ter he fin­ished a game one af­ter­noon with his friends. “They in­tro­duced new rules that never ex­isted in sports be­fore.”

The play­ers weren’t al­lowed to wear lo­gos or brand names on their shirts be­cause the mil­i­tants con­sid­ered them to be idol­a­trous.

“I had to stand at the en­trance of the pitch with scis­sors,” said 31-year-old Mo­hammed Sadiq, who works at the soc­cer field. He then had to cut the lo­gos of teams such as Real Madrid and Barcelona from the jer­seys.

“They called them in­fi­del lo­gos,” he said.

Soc­cer is very pop­u­lar in Iraq and many peo­ple root for big Euro­pean teams like Manch­ester United, Chelsea or Barcelona.

“We couldn’t wear shorts; we had to wear trousers like this,” said Obeyda Mo­hammed, point­ing at a track­suit one of his fel­low play­ers was wear­ing.

“But they had to be baggy, not tight. By the way, the brands and lo­gos of com­pa­nies like adi­das, Nike and the oth­ers were for­bid­den.”

The mil­i­tants also or­dered ref­er­ees not to use whis­tles dur­ing the game “be­cause the sound would make the devils gather,” the play­ers said.

Tro­phies and medals were also for­bid­den be­cause it was thought they would en­cour­age greed.

Tour­na­ments could not be or­ga­nized, ei­ther.

Mo­hammed Sadiq said there wasn’t a time limit on a match, which un­der nor­mal rules should last 90 min­utes, and IS fight­ers would typ­i­cally aban­don the game af­ter 15 min­utes or so when they didn’t feel like play­ing any­more.

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