Iraq WinsIraq; that worn torn country where sectarian violence is rampant and daily car bombs and other forms of terrorism have become a way of life, finally had reason to celebrate when their national football team won the Asian Cup by beating Saudi Arabia 1-0. Many might wonder how this beleaguered land could even have a sports organization capable of sending a national team to play in an event that is one of the preliminary qualifying tournaments for playing in the World Cup football competition, played every four years.

What is really thrilling is seeing how the Iraqi people have come together to celebrate this event; displaying an element of national pride that hasn’t been around for years – even during the more than 30 reign of dictator Saddam Hussein. Following the Iraqi team victory, Iraqi citizens from all backgrounds; Sunni, Shiite, Kurds, and others came together to not only celebrate their team’s accomplishment but to display their own national pride which had been lacking there for nearly two generations.

This is not the first time that sporting events have brought people together and instilled in them a sense of deep national pride. It happens all the time and for a brief while, old animosities appear to be forgotten and individual hatreds are put on a back burner. The Iraqi team victory may not mean much to people living in Israel; but the spirit of it should show both Israelis and other people living in this region that perhaps there is a better way to deal with differences and hatreds other than by force of arms.

Perhaps the time has come for peoples in this region to agree to compete against each other not by military aggression but by participation in sporting events. Taking the Asian Cup into account, Israel does not play in this event due to the religious and political animosity that still exists between the Jewish State and her neighbors. Suppose that it were possible for Israeli teams to participate in sporting competitions with countries such as Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and even Iraq. Such events might help a lot towards solving political and cultural differences, and might even help to bring people closer together. For some reason, the comradeship that takes place in athletic competition, including the Olympic Games, at least contributes towards peace and friendship, if only for a limited time.

The next Olympiad is only one year away. Perhaps the time has come for Israeli athletes to be able to compete more against athletes from countries with which Israel is still technically at war. In any event, it is worth any possible risks; and if Israeli athletes or teams are able to directly compete against athletes from countries like Iran, than perhaps the “ice” will melt; or at least thaw out a bit.

So while Iraqi fans are still celebrating their team’s victory, perhaps some of that good feeling might work its way towards Israel. Why not? Let sports be the great equalizer as it has shown to be in Iraq.