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Special report: Uday Hussein’s Olympic Playground

The former site of the Iraq National Olympic Headquarters, complete with its recognizable five rings on the wall outside and a toppled statue of Saddam Hussein inside the walls, stands a charred wreck. It sits near the Canal Expressway in Western Baghdad, filled with a few poor Baghdad residents sifting through the wreckage for something useful to loot. Already, the head of the statue of Saddam that once stood outside had been sawed off and taken away. According to the New York Times, a metal framework used for administering electric shocks to athletes who didn’t perform, was taken to a

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IOC put on its blinders when it came to Iraq

By Timothy Carlson, Inside Triathlon Senior Correspondent

Photo: Timothy Carlson

The former site of the Iraq National Olympic Headquarters, complete with its recognizable five rings on the wall outside and a toppled statue of Saddam Hussein inside the walls, stands a charred wreck.

It sits near the Canal Expressway in Western Baghdad, filled with a few poor Baghdad residents sifting through the wreckage for something useful to loot. Already, the head of the statue of Saddam that once stood outside had been sawed off and taken away.

According to the New York Times, a metal framework used for administering electric shocks to athletes who didn’t perform, was taken to a mosque in nearby Saddam City, a memorial to Saddam’s brutality to the Shiite majority during a 24-year reign.

It’s a physical wreck, a multi story building smashed by Cruise missiles into a teetering hulk of twisted metal and broken glass and ashes. Water fills its basement, and tattered letters from International Olympic Committee officials spill out of its files one many of the open-air offices. It’s also a potent symbolic wreck, dragged down by Saddam Hussein’s sadistic and twisted son Uday, who fed his ego by ruling his country’s Olympic movement.

Uday, an infamous playboy and torturer, was no athlete. So his idea of sporting leadership was to torture soccer players who did not win. The basement became a place where athletes were taken and placed in torture devices, such as a sarcophagus with nails.

Photo: Timothy Carlson

On a sunny May 2, I took a taxi to the site to see just how far the Olympic movement had been twisted by men with money and power in a totalitarian state. An old man smiled and guided me through ashes to a broken wall which served as the entrance to the basement. Pointing up to a set of bars on the ceiling, he said this was where athletes’ wrists were bound and held.

A small girl walked through and smiled as she washed her hands by a pipe where water poured out. Smiled perhaps because the missile attack had perhaps exorcised the evil that once resided there.

The New York Times’ John Burns had told me that he found letters written with the elegant imprint of the International Olympic Committee, addressed with florid compliments addressed to Uday Hussein and other officials of the Iraqi Olympic Center.

“It was well known by Western human rights organizations that the Baghdad building was used for torture and killing,” said Burns. “Yet the IOC did not distance themselves from it. I found letters to Uday Hussein from Juan Antonio Samaranch,” the former head of the IOC.

Uday Hussein was quick to claim the credit for victories and often rode in celebratory parades with the soccer team after a big win. But when they lost, he used the family’s time worn tactics. Burns reported that erring players were condemned to kick concrete soccer balls around prison yards in 130-degree heat, and stand at attention while their backs were hit raw by steel cables.

So now Saddam and his two horrible sons have disappeared, their palaces looted of the obscene luxuries they stole from an impoverished people. The sons’ prized racehorses and Ferraris were led away to new homes on the streets of Baghdad. Yet the soccer players who were tortured in this building are still haunted.

One told Burns “Can you be certain he will not come back?”

Meanwhile the integrity of the Olympic leadership, such as it is, rolls on into a future filled with money and forgetting.


Inside Triathlon senior correspondent Timothy Carlson recently traveled to Iraq while researching a book on the media and the Iraq war.

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