Iraqi footballers ask for asylum

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The Independent Online

Three members of Iraq's Olympic soccer team and their assistant coach left the team during a trip to Australia and are seeking asylum in the country, Iraq's soccer federation said yesterday.

The soccer federation's secretary-general, Tariq Ahmed, said the four disappeared at dawn Sunday from the home of colleagues in Australia, where they were staying after playing Australia's Olympic team a day earlier.

They did not show up at the airport for their scheduled departure with the rest of their team a few hours later, he said. The assistant coach, Saadi Toma, later phoned team officials and told them he and the three players were seeking asylum in Australia, Ahmed said.

"It's because of the deteriorated security situation and violence against athletes in Iraq," Ahmed told The Associated Press by telephone in Baghdad.

"We all face the same danger, but it doesn't mean one should so easily abandon his team and defame his country's reputation," Ahmed said.

He identified the players at Ali Mansour, Ali Khidhayyir and Ali Abbas, who was a member of Iraq's senior squad that won the Asian Cup this past summer.

A spokeswoman for Australian Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with government rules, said the players were still holding valid visas and had not applied for asylum in Australia. Regular visas are for three months, so the players would have some time before they need to submit asylum applications.