Wales a model for Kurdistan

Wales ‘a devolved sports model for Kurdistan’
Nov 17 2008 by Matt Withers, Western Mail

UNDER economic embargo for years, a victim of severe hardship and racked with conflict and warfare, the Iraqi region of Kurdistan is only now gradually recovering.

Like that of many such regions, its government feels that sport can play a key role in bringing its communities together and healing old wounds.

And next month representatives will travel to a nation they feel offers an “example in building a strong and successful sporting culture across Kurdistan for the future”: Wales.

Senior members of both the Iraqi and Kurdistani governments are to attend a conference in Cardiff in December organised in collaboration with the Sports Council for Wales looking at ways sporting activity can be encouraged in “devolved regions”.

Kurdistan and Wales earned their devolved statuses in very different manners – Kurdish parties joined forces against the Iraqi government in Operation Iraqi Freedom in Spring 2003, while Wales had a narrowly-won referendum but the Kurdistanis feel they have much to learn from Wales.

“The Kurdistan Region, an autonomous region in federal Iraq, is recovering from a long period of conflict and oppression,” said Bayan Rahman, Kurdistan’s High Representative to the UK.

“We know that sport can bring communities together and improve people’s quality of life.

“We hope we will be able to learn about how sport is funded and run, how to involve women, youth and the disabled in sport, and how regions can compete in international competitions.

“We are delighted to be working with the Sports Council for Wales in hosting this conference, which will look a ways to develop a robust culture of sport in devolved regions and in federal states.”

The conference, which will be held on December 9 and 10 at the Welsh Institute of Sport in Cardiff, will be attended by both the Iraqi Sports Minister, Jasim Mohamad Jafar, and his Kurdistani equivalent, Taha Barwary.

In addition, delegates from other devolved regions, including the Catalan Sport Council and the Kosovo Basketball Federation, will share their experiences.

Ms Rahman added: “Wales punches above its weight in international competitions and has a record to be proud of, not just in the professional sporting arena but also in encouraging participation in sport at grassroots level.

“We hope to follow the Welsh example in building a strong and successful sporting culture across Kurdistan for the future.”

Sport is already popular and growing more in Kurdistan, which borders Syria, Iran and Turkey.

The Kurdish football club Arbil FC has won the Iraqi Super League for the past two years and will represent the country in this season’s Asian Champions League. Its national team, however, is not internationally recognised and so cannot compete for the World Cup.

Other popular sports in the region include volleyball, athletics, wrestling, hockey and equestrianism.

The Cardiff conference, say organisers, will concentrate on five main themes: the role of sport in post-conflict nations, building social capital through sport, increasing grassroots and elite participation in sport, regional sports funding and administration, and how regions compete internationally.

Others taking part in the conference include Olympic hurdling medallist Colin Jackson and BBC sports editor Mihir Bose.