Tragic events can often disrupt the planning of the most organised competitions. So when Iraq and Italy faced each other in Thessaloniki on Friday for the bronze medal match of the Olympic Football Tournament hours after the Italian journalist Enzo Baldoni was killed in Iraq, there was speculation the match would be another casualty. But the encounter went ahead, produced an entertaining contest played in the spirit of fair play and won 1-0 by Italy. Minutes before kick off FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter, Italian Federation (FIGC) President Franco Carraro and the head of the delegation from Iraq, Amer Jaber, sat down in front of a packed conference room of reporters to explain why the game must go on.
"First I would like to congratulate both teams who have qualified for this bronze medal match of the 18th Olympic Football Tournament. While Italy, three times world champions, have been among the planet's best for some time, it is a big surprise for Iraq," began the FIFA President, introducing himself and Franco Carraro as members of the International Olympic Committee Executive Board.
"It is important to say we cannot close our eyes to the deplorable act last night (Thursday) in the country where one of the teams (Iraq) are from and affecting a person from the other (Italy). But football has to go on and so do the Olympics. I want to express my condolences to the family who have lost your colleague.
|Italian captain Andrea Pirlo|
"But now we must appeal to football that works for better understanding and for solidarity. I am happy that both delegations, Iraq and Italy, will play for the bronze medal because we must have a winner tonight. Life must go on and so must football. The president of the IOC (Jacques Rogge), with whom I spoke to this morning, is absolutely of the same opinion. We also note the Italian team will play with an identification of their sadness (black armband). Both teams will make a picture together to show that in solidarity they both go forward."
Amer Jaber of the Iraq delegation was next to speak:
"We, the Iraqi delegation, express our condolences to the Italian people and the family of the man killed. We are very sad. We are human beings and it was an act against humanity. I'm sure these people are not real Iraqis."
It was left to Italian Federation President Franco Carraro to reveal some details of the appeal the Iraqi delegation would have made but for the journalist's death.
"All the Italian delegation, not just football, are shocked about what happened last night and are close to the family of Mr. Baldoni. What took place yesterday does not change our relationship with the Iraq people. I want to say we are very grateful with the attitude of their delegation. They, and especially the coach, had already asked the captors to release their prisoner. And we heard today there was a plan to use this game to make a special appeal. Unfortunately it could not be but we will not forget their attitude and we are grateful. I should also add many people In Iraq are dying each day.
Having heard the federations' statements, the FIFA President once again stressed the importance that the game go ahead before calling those in the room, including many colleagues of the murdered journalist, to observe a few seconds' silence.
"It will be played in memory of the appeal - to have called on the group to free this man who is no longer with us. "