National

Iraqi judoka arrives for Olympic warmup

by Kanako Takahara

An Iraqi judoka who will represent his country in the Athens Olympics next month began two weeks of training in Tokyo on Monday.

“This is an opportunity I have dreamed of,” Hadir Lazame, 29, told a news conference through an interpreter. “I hope to be in my best condition for the Athens Games.”

Lazame, who will participate in the 100-kg and over class, arrived Sunday night with his Iraqi coach, Radi Radi. He was invited here as part of the government’s efforts to support Iraq’s reconstruction process.

“The number of judoka in Iraq has been on the rise since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime,” said Lazame, who has been been practicing judo since he was 8. “It is considered a sport of high morals.”

Lazame, who will be Iraq’s first judoka to compete in the Olympics, said it was not easy to train during the reign of Hussein, who was ousted by U.S.-led forces last year.

He said he made an effort not to confront Hussein’s eldest son, Udai, the former chairman of Iraq’s Olympic Committee notorious for torturing athletes who failed to win at international events.

Lazame said that although he was never tortured, he had to flee to Syria after the Hussein regime learned in 2000 that he had contacts with an antigovernment group. He continued to practice judo in Syria, he said.

He returned to Iraq last year before the war began because he was worried about his family.

But despite the fall of the regime, Lazame said he has had trouble focusing on his judo training in Baghdad due to the deteriorating security situation, power failures and a shortage of supplies.

He said he hopes his participation in the Olympics will contribute to a better international image of Iraq.

“I hope to contribute in spreading judo in towns, villages, schools and sports clubs in Iraq,” he said.

Lazame and his coach will head for Athens on Aug. 7 to join the Iraqi team.