Curfews, shoot-on-sight orders, bombings and constant checkpoints may be the norm in Iraq, but are definitely not the right circumstances in which to prepare for a major sporting assignment.
The Iraq national tennis squad have been forced to accept this scenario as part of their lives, but have still managed to compete in Dubai at the ongoing Davis Cup Asia/Oceania Zone Group IV matches being played at the Aviation Club this week.
The Iraq Tennis Association (ITA) has not asked the government to try and sort the situation out, instead the organisation has gone about its job despite the surrounding chaos.
“To start with, the national team and the coaching staff is all based in Baghdad. Some of the players walk it out to the tennis courts for practice, some come on bicycles, while some of us [the coaching staff] use our cars to get there,” coach Auday Ahmad told Gulf News on the sidelines of the Davis Cup competition.
“And since cars are only allowed to be on the roads of Baghdad depending on whether they have odd or even number plates, a few of us have managed to have one car each with an odd and even number plate so that we can just go and attend practice.”
Iraq lost their first two encounters against Bahrain and Bangladesh to remain at the bottom of Pool B, but on Saturday they beat Kyrgyzstan 2-0 to ensure they avoided the overall Group IV wooden spoon.
But coach Ahmad wished they had better preparations before landing in the UAE. Their Davis Cup encounter was initially scheduled to be held in Myanmar, but had to be postponed at the last minute. So the squad travelled to Lisbon in Portugal for a month, where they spent time practising and playing against some of the local players.
“With hindsight I would have thought that two weeks in Dubai would have been better than the month spent in Europe. We would have had some practice matches and acclimatised to the heat and humidity as well,” Ahmad said.
Iraq last played in Group III way back in 1988, since when they have languished in the basement Group IV. “Our objective of moving back into Group III is still there, but the odds are stacked against us for the time being,” Ahmad added.
“Finally it is the love for tennis that keeps us all going. I hope there will be peace in my country and we can one day return to those glory days.”
By Alaric Gomes