Iraqi athletes banned from the Summer Games

BAGHDAD — Five Iraqi athletes invited to the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games have been barred from competing in August, the International Olympic Committee said Thursday.

"We suspended (the Iraqi National Olympic Committee) back in June because of the clear interference of the government," spokeswoman Emmanuelle Moreau said. "When we did that we also invited the Iraqi government to discuss possible solutions, but we haven't received any positive response from them."

The athletes -- one each in judo, archery and weightlifting, and two in rowing -- had been training with financial support provided by the IOC, according to an IOC spokeswoman. But as of Wednesday, the entry deadline for most Olympic events, Iraq had no recognized Olympic committee to enter a team.

Iraq disbanded its committee in May, saying it had failed to hold required elections, and replaced its members with government appointees. A month later, the IOC announced it would not recognize the new committee and called for reinstatement of the old one. Iraq refused.

There remains a slim chance for Iraqis to compete in track and field, where the entry deadline is the end of this month. Under track and field rules, each NOC has the right to send one male and one female athlete to the Olympics. "Provided the Iraqi government moves and reinstates the National Olympic Committee, there is still some hope," Moreau said.

Spokesmen for the Iraqi National Olympic Committee and Ministry of Sport could not be reached for comment. The head of the committee said he had not received any formal announcement of the ban.

"I think it is not fair," said Entifadh Qanbar, a former adviser to the committee who quit in June. "I don't think we're going to win any medals -- that's difficult to say -- but this would have been a very positive thing in light of the recent security (situation), and very important psychologically for the Iraqi people."

Dozens of Iraqi athletes, coaches and athletic officials have been killed since the war began, and 30 employees of the committee were kidnapped in 2006. Many athletes have trained outside the country since then.

Spangler reports for The Miami Herald. Issa is a McClatchy special correspondent in Baghdad.