Soccer And Dictatorships: A Love Story

After several years behind the scenes, Santiago Bernabeu came to forefront of Spanish politics and sport, assisting in the general’s tinted agenda. The ex-footballer venerated Franco, building a new stadium, in which, “The Valley of the Fallen” was built for recognize deceased members of the nationalist movement. Bernabeu would not stop there, as his reign saw Madrid lift six European Cups, 16 league titles and three Club World Cups. The hallowed ground now bares his name.  Bernabeu played a key role in putting the Madrid outfit in position to be named FIFA‘s, “Club of the Century.” The dictation of society by Franco and Bernabeu saw people respect the regime, keeping it in power through 1975.

Saddam Hussein took charge of Iraq in 1980, using football to earn the respect of those he ruled. His ego boosted Iraqi football, as the little known “Saddam Olympics,” celebrated Hussein’s birthday. The football team was the only piece of unification among those in the divided country. Sponsored by the Iraqi-Russian Friendship Society, the nation was able to compete at a higher level, leading to their nine cup victories in the 1980s. The squad died off as Hussein upped his rule, when he left the team to his psychotic son.

Uday Hussein described as a “pervert,” lacked the qualifications to lead one of the world’s greatest sides. It is truly a shame that the father-son partnership did not realize the potential their side had, as the nation could have attained greater fame and positive recognition, had the team run itself . Uday, with his paralyzed lower body proved to be as tough as his father. The brutality, brought upon those he felt were sub-par can only be described as inhumane. Players who survived the high pressure life of the national team described Uday’s faults in great, yet disturbing detail. One punishment involved beating the sole of a footballer’s foot, until it was no more, before dragging the victim to a drainage pipe, where he was dropped, so that his wounds would be purged with toxic liquids. Other practices included sending players to prison. According to James Montague’s When Friday Comes: Football in the War Zone, the son kept a torture device used to “rip open a man’s anus,” in the IOC Headquarters. While Uday’s men were sensational, it is tremendously disheartening that the dictatorship held them from achieving more.

Hussein’s biggest error may have been his decision to put Uday in charge of his country’s first team. For small countries such as Iraq, a strong footballing side enforces a positive image about the globe. Cameroon, known for being the “Indomitable Lions,” has been thwarted by the dictatorship of Paul Biya for decades. Biya allowed his team to play, so that the international community was so mesmerized by the nation’s talent, thus slipping under the world’s radar. Had Saddam let his team prosper, the “Sons of Iraq” could have led to a gilded unity under Hussein. The case study of Biya’s Cameroon shows the extent of the error Hussein made. Few are aware of Biya’s lengthy rule, though many know of Saddam’s.

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