Iraq has withdrawn from the football tournament of this month’s Asian Games at Jakarta in Indonesia, potentially throwing the competition into turmoil less than two weeks before kick-off. The Iraq Olympic Committee has withdrawn the team from the event, according to a source in Baghdad. It is however a decision which has left officials needing to address an imbalance in the opening phases of the tournament.
Last week the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) conducted a re-draw of the competition’s group stage to add Palestine and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The pair had been left off the original entry list. That meant two of the six groups swelled from four teams to five, but Iraq’s withdrawal now means one group will feature just three countries. These are China, Timor Leste and Syria. The Olympic Council of Asia, the organizers of the Asian Games, have yet to respond to a request from Reuters for comment.
A source at the Iraq Football Association had initially denied reports the team would be removed from the competition. The source failed to speak also on whether the squad’s preparations were being finalized following the completion of a training camp in the northern city of Erbil. Earlier this week, football officials were reported to have been fired over their involvement in the selection of overage players for the nation’s under-16 team. This was after they were stopped at passport control on their way to participate in a regional tournament. The withdrawal of Iraq’s footballers follows a decision by the Philippines not to send the nation’s basketball team to Jakarta. Philippines’s decision was in the aftermath of their on-court brawl with Australia during a recent World Cup qualifier. The football tournament at the Asian Games begins on Aug. 10 and features teams made up of players 23 years of age and under. Coaches are however permitted to select three overage players. The final will be played on Sept. 1.