WASHINGTON (AFP) — US President George W. Bush's chief spokeswoman said Thursday she was "disappointed" that Iraqi athletes will not be able to compete at the Beijing Olympics next month, the result of a ban.
"I'm sure that the Iraqi athletes -- who have trained so hard, and were finally going to represent a country that is free, and sovereign, and working to establish its democracy -- they have to be terribly disappointed and I'm disappointed for the athletes as well," Dana Perino told reporters.
Perino later emphasized that she was expressing sympathy for the athletes, not judging the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decision to ban Iraq from the Games.
The IOC said in a letter dated July 23 and addressed to Iraqi Youth and Sports Minister Jassem Jaafar that it was moving ahead with a ban first imposed on the country's athletes last month.
The IOC suspended Iraq for "political interference" in its national Olympic committee which was sacked in May and replaced by a new panel headed by Jaafar. It had warned that sanctions could be imposed after the committee and other sports bodies were disbanded.
Perino declined to say whether the United States had advised Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on the decision, adding: "I don't know the particular details as to why Prime Minister Maliki decided to take that action."
After the initial suspension it was believed that up to seven Iraqi athletes would still participate in the Games beginning on August 8.
However, the IOC made clear in Thursday's letter that an opportunity for Iraqi athletes to compete under the Olympic flag instead of the national flag was now over.
"The quota places obtained through the qualification systems and the invitation places offered by the Tripartite Commission to Iraqi athletes have been withdrawn and re-allocated," the IOC said.
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