For a long time now, the city of Baghdad hasn’t seen the spirit of athletics the way it used to. From the 1970’s through to the 1980’s, the city hosted competitions and races and had quite the running scene. That hasn’t been the case in recent years though until last week when the Baghdad International Marathon took place.
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The race’s name is a little misleading– it’s not actually a marathon but has shorter distances for runners to choose from. Those who signed up had their choice of running two, four, eight or 10 kilometres. Over 2,000 participated in the Friday race.
While most were from Iraq, runners came from eight other countries including Syria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Somalia, Yemen and Lebanon.
As The New York Times reports, part of the reason why the race is being held is in effort to bring up Baghdad’s reputation to show that it can be a place that hosts events that foster the spirit of athletics. The Baghdad International Marathon can go ahead despite the fact that violence and political instability has had a strong hold on the country. Furthermore, an event like this can attract athletes from politically unstable or war-torn countries to focus on running instead.
The race is happening yearly and will continue to pull athletes from abroad with the intention to rebuild the image of Baghdad. “Baghdad is victorious. Baghdad is the city of peace,” said the master of ceremonies during Friday’s race.
Spokesperson of the event, Maitham Taher explained to The New York Times that during the 1970’s, athletics was strong in Iraq and its capital. During this time, the country was in the midst of a construction boom and society was free of wars and sanctions. Many who used to race during that time period were present at the race last week.
Talib al-Safar, the president of Iraqi athletics federation was satisfied with last week’s race quoted as saying “Baghdad is a great city,” he said. “We owe everything to Baghdad. We had to do something special for Baghdad.”
The race will go ahead next year as well and will likely feature a half-marathon option. Organizers hope that it will eventually grow to a marathon.