Mosul residents can play soccer again without Islamic State rulesFriday February 10th, 2017
MOSUL, Iraq (AP) — 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 field 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, the manager of the soccer field.
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 jerseys and a ban on referees' whistles. "It wasn't as much fun," said 26-year-old Obeyda Mohammed 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 soccer 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 it 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 the 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 that 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.
Games also had to be stopped for prayers. "I had to bring prayer mats for the players and put them on the football pitch and lead the prayer for them," he said. The militants also made the players remove the five Olympic rings from the building because they said it was the sign of infidels.
"We tried to tell them it represented the five continents and had nothing to do with the infidels but it was useless. We had to bring a blacksmith with a grinder to cut them off," Mohammed Sadiq said.
IS ouster clears way for football comeback in Iraq's Mosul14/04/2017 (MSN)
It was a grim time for football: jihadists observed matches, jerseys from foreign teams were banned and even whistling was prohibited when the Islamic State group held Iraq's Mosul.
Play was halted for prayers, which occur five times a day, and shorts that exposed players' knees were also banned by IS.
Now, eastern Mosul has been recaptured from the jihadists and efforts are underway to rehabilitate football pitches, even as the battle for the city's west continues on the other side of the Tigris River.
"When we were playing, they were watching us and some of them carried weapons, and they prevented us from wearing foreign teams' uniforms," says Osama Ali Hamid, a 26-year-old player wearing the jersey of Germany's Borussia Dortmund club.
"If one of us arrived wearing a shirt with the logo of a foreign team, they'd remove the team's logo with scissors," Hamid said.
Excitement dominated a recent match in eastern Mosul, at which young men gathered around a pitch that has been covered in new artificial turf to cheer on their comrades.
"Now we are playing without Daesh monitoring," says Laith Ali, 23, using an Arabic acronym for IS.
"They imposed rules on us."
But now, the young men can keep playing even when the call to prayer sounds from the minarets of the city's mosques.
Football is wildly popular in Mosul, as it is in other areas across Iraq -- indeed, the sport has been one of the few consistent unifiers in a long-divided country.
- Battlefields, not playing fields -
The Mosul Club was one of the best-known football clubs in the country, and was preparing to return to the Iraqi league in 2014, when IS seized the northern city, preventing the players from going to qualifying matches outside.
The club's buildings and facilities are located on the eastern side of Mosul, but the main stadium is in west Mosul, which Iraqi forces are still battling to retake from IS.
In 2012, work began to build a new stadium on the same spot with a planned capacity of more than 20,000, but like the Mosul club's Iraqi league aspirations, these plans were also thwarted by the IS assault in 2014.
Mohammed Abdulkarim al-Mimaari, the head of the Youth and Sports Department in Nineveh province, of which Mosul is the capital, says that 12 football pitches in the city have been restored.
In Mosul, the department is holding a sports event on the first day of each month, dubbing it "Sports Day," spokesman Omar Shamseddin said.
IS members "were playing with us in the beginning, they were treating us well. They are Iraqis from the local community," says player Hamid.
But that did not last: they later "began saying in their sermons in the mosques that the battlefields are better than the playing fields".
"They even prohibited whistling" during matches based on the belief that it would cause "devils" to gather, says 25-year-old player Mustafah Nour.
Violating the prohibition resulted in two or three days in jail, he says.
"But now, we play freely," Hamid says.