Iraq, Syria and Iran. As I write this article, all three teams have since been eliminated.
Of three teams, some were shocked that at least one of them had Assyrian players. In fact, not one but two-on the Syrian national team. These were Luay Chanko and Sanharib Malki.
As for the other two countries, Iran did have a Christian Armenian player, but no Assyrians. As for Iraq, the birthplace of many Assyrian soccer legends, it had none. In fact, it didn’t even have a single Christian player.
Teams are not chosen based on religion or ethnic affiliation, but given a country like Iraq with its history and ethnic make-up, it would have been a great gesture to include at least one Assyrian player. Even if this player never played and sat on the bench most of the time. Having an Assyrian player on the Iraqi team would make a world of difference to virtually every Assyrian out there.
A lot of Assyrians from Iraq are already big supporters of the national Iraqi team. It is a passion that goes back to early childhood years when we used to watch the Iraqi team – with several Assyrian players – entertain us and beat other teams in different tournaments.
There are two sides to the question of whether to support an Iraqi team that doesn’t truly represent Assyrians: on the one hand, there are those of us who are very attached to the team for decades now and feel it is our team, even if it is representing Iraq and not Assyrians per se.
On the other hand, there are those who not only don’t cheer for the Iraqi team, they dislike anyone who does and think we are cheering for a team from a country that treats its Assyrian Christian people as second class citizens, therefore don’t deserve our support.
Each side has his or her point, but at the end of the day, this is a personal sport decision and no one should impose their view on others.
But back to the issue of Assyrian players on the Iraqi team. Though the current situation in Iraq isn’t ideal for us to worry about Assyrian players on the team, it is one that deserves some discussion. Although I am not from Syria, I found myself cheering for their team in their group stages simply for having two Assyrian players on it. It is not about a bias or only liking teams that have Assyrians. Rather, it is the fact that Assyrians make up a significant portion of Iraq’s population, ethnic and political make-up, not to mention its priceless contributions to advancing soccer in Iraq and putting it on the map.
Iraqi football committee should do its best to start including Assyrian Christian players on its future roasters again. It only represents the social demographic on the ground.
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