Posted by Generalissimo
Almost 27 years ago, in one of the more improbable moments in sports, a scrappy group of college kids in Lake Placid did the unthinkable, which was beat the Russian team, a team that was bigger, stronger, and much more experienced than the United States squad. But it turned out to be much more than a hockey game, although not many people at the time realized the impact of it.
As detailed in the very fine documentary Do You Believe in Miracles? The Story of the 1980 U.S. Hockey Team, the United States was at the height of the Cold War in 1980, had just suffered through four years of near-ruinous Jimmy Carter economics, and a foreign policy that had no answer for the Iran hostage crisis at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. The country was, by and large, in a funk. Hockey had never been as big across the country as baseball, basketball and football, but seeing our kids take on the dreaded Soviet squad, beating them, and then going on to win the gold medal had an effect on our national psyche. It was a shot in the arm of national pride that was one of those intangible elements that helped us transition from the malaise of the 70’s to the prosperity of the 80’s under Ronald Reagan. We can only hope that what took place earlier today in Jakarta will give Iraq the same shot in the arm it so desperately needs.
The Asian Cup is a sixteen team soccer tournament, and for the last couple of years, was dominated by the Saudis. Iraq’s entry was not regarded as having much of a chance considering the sectarian violence and al Qaeda terrorism running rampant in the country, to the level that Iraq’s team couldn’t even practice in Iraq. They certainly weren’t expected to get to the finals, let alone beat the two-time defending Cup champion Saudis. But Iraq, for the first time in their history, can now hoist an international sport trophy. Iraq the Model has the pictures, and more importantly, the sense of what Iraqis, by and large, are feeling tonight.
We may not know if, or how much, a win like this may help unify Iraq for some time, but it’s hard to believe at this point that it can hurt. The Iraqi team consisted of Shiia, Sunni and Kurdish players, and a lot of what we have seen and heard today from Iraqis as they celebrated was that tonight, they aren’t ‘insert sect here,’ they’re Iraqis. Let’s hope that nationalism seed planted today takes root. Naturally, there were instances of rioting, shooting guns in the air, and other signs of the ugly side of high-profile sporting wins that some will try and use to taint the team’s accomplishment with, but tonight, hope is alive in Iraq, something that has been rare to come by since the rise of the insurgency.
Each member of the Iraqi team has felt personally the impact of the sectarian violence and Islamic terrorism. Yet their perseverance and determination to rise to the level they did should be a model for all Iraqis to end the sectarian violence and realize that every sect has more to gain by a unified Iraq than they do continuing to wage battles against each other, often times ignited by foreign elements from al Qaeda and Iran.
Can the political leaders from the three major camps in the fledgling Iraqi government process use this occasion to work together and finally form a fully-functional government? Who knows. But unlike two days ago, when the prospects of Iraq coming together anytime soon were bleak at best, thanks to a team of unlikely Iraqi soccer players, there is now something to add into the equation-hope.