A Revolution in Syrian Sports
The Syrian uprising left no stone unturned in its reach. The influence of the uprising has reached into the depth of Syrian society, and even sporting activities have changed. In the early months of the uprising, Abd al-Basset Sarout, the goalkeeper of al-Karama, raised his voice in chant in his hometown of Homs, and captured the hearts of all free Syrians.
In the early days of the uprising the regime worked tirelessly to turn all state institutions into an echo chamber of its views, attempting to take advantage of all resources in its battle to stay in power. It even attempted to recruit sportspeople, like judo and football players, into its paramilitary and Shabbiha forces for their physical strength. “They were armed with sticks in the early days of the uprising in 2011, and pushed as a first line of attack against peaceful demonstrators. Later they were armed with guns and pushed into the battlefield,” thus claims an extract of a report sent to the International Judo Federation by the opposition organisation, “Higher Committee for Sports and Youth”.
The committee has strived to document all the violations perpetrated by the regime against sportspeople, and using sportspeople. It claims that “Judo players were recruited upon direct orders from the head of the Syrian Sports Federation, Maj. Gen. Mouaffaq Jumaa, and the president of al-Muhafaza Club in Damascus, Muhammad al-Sibai.” The reports track the different sportspeople who were recruited by the regime in meticulous details including the names, placement, and place of death: “Iyad Zain al-Abidin, a Judo instructor from al-Swieda, armed and sent to fight in the Daraa Province where he died.” The reports also list 218 cases of documented sportspeople who were killed at the hands of the regime either in detention or through shelling or other means, including the case of Ayman Bizmawi, a judo player who was executed in Ariha on 12 August 2012, and Louay al-Laji, also a judo player, who died in detention on 15 December 2012.
The motivation behind the committee is to “strip the regime of any legitimacy through sports organisations”. To this end the reports list a number of violations in the elections and appointment of major sporting federations in the country. It also demands international sports federation to stand up to their responsibility and withdraw recognition “or else, your silence will make you accomplices in the crime committed against the Syrian people.” The committee has thus declared an open war against the regime’s representatives in the world of sports. It has also taken to each opportunity to advocate for its cause. During the visit of Marius Vizir, the head of the international federation of Judo to Killis, Turkey, it presented with a compiled file of the aforementioned violations and a list of the sportspeople that the regime has recruited to do its bidding. They also organised a visit to members of his team to the refugee camp in the city and to the sports facilities the refugees use.
The committee has also been working to re-establish new sports organisations on new foundations. It recently announced a new Syrian national team in football to be based in the city of Killis, Turkey under the management of national coaches Marwan Muna and Bashar Abdin. This was building on the core of footballers who established a parallel team in Lebanon earlier in the year. Invitations will be sent to professional Syrian footballers in Turkey and around the world to join the new team.