Iraqi delight as Western Cape ‘adopts’ Asian champions

The vast majority of South Africans would surely be hard-pressed to come up with just one line from Iraq's national anthem.

Pupils from Cape Town's Muhammedayeh and Douglas Road Primary schools, however, had an astonished Iraq Ambassador to South Africa, Rasheed Alawsy, up on his feet smiling, clapping and singing along when they performed a rousing rendition of Iraq's entire national anthem during an Iraqi delegation's visit to the Mother City this weekend.

Alawsy and his delegation were in Cape Town as part of the ‘My 2010 School Adventure' campaign, a partnership between the 2010 FIFA World Cup Organising Committee South Africa (OC) and the national departments of Education and Sport and Recreation.

Asian football champions Iraq have qualified for the upcoming FIFA Confederations Cup 2009 and will face South Africa's Bafana Bafana in the tournament's opening match at Johannesburg's Ellis Park Stadium on June 14.

As part of the 2010 schools campaign every one of the eight FIFA Confederations Cup participating countries have been ‘adopted' by one of the South African provinces, with hundreds of thousands of pupils throughout the country learning more about the language, culture and sport of Iraq, Spain, Brazil, Italy, New Zealand, United States, Egypt, South Africa, as well as the African Union. This fantastic education and sports initiative also aims to train 10 000 teachers and senior learners in both coaching, sports administration and event management, with over 8 000 schools having participated in a Schools Confederations Cup tournament as part of the project.

Iraq were adopted by the Western Cape Province, with the Muhammedayeh and Douglas Road pupils from Wynberg in Cape Town having worked tirelessly through their Easter holidays to prepare a comprehensive Iraqi cultural showcase for the visit of Alawsy and his delegation.

The two schools were joined at the event by pupils from the winners of the Western Cape Under 14 and Under 18 boys and girls provincial finals of the 2010 Confederations Cup schools competition, Guguletu's Fezeka High School and Lwazi Primary School, and Plettenberg Bay's Phakamisani Primary School and Kuils River's Western Cape Sports School, which hosted the event.

The day's activities also consisted of traditional Iraqi dancing, the sharing of information about Iraq's national football team, a cultural learning segment, as well as an Iraqi language teaching segment. There were also displays of traditional Iraqi food provided by Iraqi families living in Cape Town, with an Iraqi lecturer at the University of the Western Cape pivotal in leading the Cape pupils' knowledge of Iraq and its culture.

"My attendance here was very important, because this function was dedicated to Iraq and shows the cooperation between the Iraqi and South African people. I feel so proud that these children sang the Iraqi national anthem and put in so much effort to learn about my culture and customs to share it with everybody here," said an elated Alawsy.

The ambassador brought along boxes full of chocolate bars for all the children as gifts, as well as good luck mementos to the four local soccer teams who will compete in the national Confederations Cup schools finals in Johannesburg next month.

"I congratulate the children, their teachers and their parents on all their hard work researching and showing the beautiful culture and language of my country. What I have seen is a wonderful experience that I will report back to Iraq. We are truly looking forward to the Iraqi team arriving in June for the Confederations Cup and being hosted in this hospitable country - South Africa. Our thanks to you all," said Alawsy, grinning from ear to ear and hardly able to contain his excitement.

Guests in attendance included national and provincial representatives from the Departments of Education, Cultural Affairs and Sports and Sports and Recreation, as well as from the OC, including the OC's Greenpoint Stadium Venue Manager Teral Cullen and 2010 Ambassador Desiree Ellis, the former captain of the South African national women's team Banyana Banyana.

Deputy Director for the Department of Sports and Recreation, Edgar Mogadi, gave an update on the "My 2010 School Adventure' campaign, explaining that phase one of the project would end with the Confederations Cup Schools Cup in Gauteng from May 14-17.

"You four teams will be known as Western Cape Iraq and will be expected to reflect Iraq well in the form of arts, culture, dance, poetry and debates during the tournament. The Iraqi Embassy will help you, through the Ambassador, and this promises to be a fun-filled event for all the children," said Mogadi.

He said phase two of the project will start immediately after the national schools finals with preparations for the 32 teams, representing each team that qualifies for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, that will participate in the 2010 Schools Cup next year.

For some of the kids present it was a cherished opportunity to participate firsthand in the 2010 FIFA World Cup™.

Fourteen-year-old Mazangwa Petersen, captain of Phakamisani Primary, has played football since he was nine and remembers vividly the day South Africa was awarded the right to host the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

"It was a great day. My dream is to become a professional player. In Africa my favourite player is Teko Modise and in the rest of the world its Cristiano Ronaldo. I am proud to be leading my team in the schools national finals. Hopefully we will win and also play in and win the 2010 Schools Cup as well," said Petersen, who also plays for Oriented Birds in Kwanokuthula Township and has been invited to participate in a football tournament in Australia.

Head of the Western Cape Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport, Brent Walters, said: "I believe My 2010 School Adventure is an excellent programme which fits perfectly with our own of promoting the province and benefiting our children, with a lasting legacy beyond 2010. I am very proud to be involved with it".

Iraq's affinity with the fair Cape Town is set to continue when Iraq plays Poland in Cape Town in a friendly international before the start of the FIFA Confederations Cup.