Soccer returns to Mosul — unencumbered by IS rules
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.