• Sports

In Saddam Hussein's Iraq, Soccer Players Who Lost A Game Were Tortured Until They Won

In Iraq, football under Saddam Hussein was life or death—quite literally. Uday Hussein, Saddam's oldest son, was in charge of the Iraqi team from 1984 to the early 2000s, and under his watch, they achieved international recognition. Unfortunately, under Uday Hussein, football player torture and brutality reached unparalleled levels of sadism.

Players were beaten and exposed to days of vicious treatment; they lived in fear that Uday would have the whole Iraqi soccer team executed if they lost. Former Iraqi football players have come forward to talk about what they endured and what has happened to them since their days on the field for Iraq. Uday Hussein's crimes exploited vulnerable athletes and created a shocking disparity between the adoration they received on the field and the brutality they endured behind the scenes.

  • Players That Underperformed Had The Soles Of Their Feet Beaten

    One of the most common ways that Uday inflicted pain upon his players was to beat the bottoms of their feet. After the Iraqi team lost a World Cup qualifying match, he reportedly ordered that the whole team have their feet caned. Uday kept track of how many lashes each player should receive on a private "score card" that he carried with him. Players tried to avoid being noticed by Uday because once they were, he would target them repeatedly. Uday would often put an entire group of players into one cell and beat them with sticks.

  • Missing Practice For Any Reason Landed Players In Prison

    There was no acceptable reason to miss soccer practice, not even for a funeral or a sick child, and players often found themselves in prison if it happened. Once they were in prison, they were sometimes urinated on by Uday himself, whipped with an electric cord, or subjected to electric shocks.

    To make matters worse, there was no medical treatment available to players. Whether they were hurt on the field or off, doctors were off limits, and players could face additional punishment if they sought help.

  • Players Beaten For Only Three Days Felt Lucky They Didn't Have To Endure More

    When Iraq lost to Beirut in the 2000 Asian Cup, Uday Hussein identified three players that he blamed for the defeat. He ordered goalkeeper Hashim Hassan, defender Abdul Jaber, and striker Qahtan Chither to be taken to the Iraqi Olympic Committee headquarters. They were thrown into prison and beaten for three days.

    This punishment was comparatively mild, however; some athletes possibly lost their lives. One boxer returned home to Iraq after a defeat. According to an observer, Uday yelled at the man, "In sport you can win or you can lose. I told you not to come home if you didn't win" before punching him repeatedly in the face. Uday then used an electric prod to jolt the boxer and "ordered his guards to fetch a straight razor... The boxer cried out as Uday held the razor to his throat, and as he moved the blade to the fighter's forehead." Uday then shaved the man's eyebrows and ordered that he be taken to the prison in the building. No one ever saw the boxer again.

  • Getting A Red Card In A Match Resulted In Humiliation And Torture

    When team captain Yasser Abdul Latif got a red card during a 2000 game in Baghdad, he was taken to Radwaniya prison on the outskirts of town, where he remained for two weeks. In the prison, his "head and eyebrows were shaved, and he was stripped to the waist." Forcible head-shaving is a humiliating punishment, particularly for Muslim men. Muslims should only shave their heads as an act of worship and only in certain contexts, according to Islamic doctrine.

    He was flogged with electric cable in two-hour increments with an hour-long break in between; the beatings grew more savage as time went on. He was led outdoors into the winter cold and doused in freezing water, which provided some relief.