RIO DE JANEIRO: An Iraqi soldier who was the sole representative for his war-ravaged country at the Rio Olympic boxing was left disappointed but proud after falling at the first hurdle on Tuesday.
Waheed Abdulridha, who was Iraq’s flag-bearer at Friday’s opening ceremony, started strongly but faded and eventually lost to Mexico’s Uziel Rodriguez on unanimous points in their middleweight clash.
The 33-year-old put his hands on his head and paced the ring in disbelief and said afterwards that he felt he had done enough to win.
Nevertheless, the Baghdad-based boxer, who is also a soldier, said he felt immense pride in fighting for Iraq on the biggest stage.
“I controlled the fight and I don’t know how he won actually,” he said. “I don’t know how I lost.”
Abdulridha, who started boxing at just age six and once learnt his art by punching walls, trains in the Iraqi capital.
“Boxing is a fight, just like terrorism is a fight. I only want peace for my country,” he said.
“It is very important that Iraq is represented internationally.”
There are 22 Iraqi athletes in Rio, including Abdulridha, all of them men and most footballers.
His trainer Hussein Ali said boxing was the second most popular sport after football in Iraq, where the Islamic State extremist group went on a brutal offensive of beheadings and forced religious conversions.
But Ali wants more than merely taking part and is ambitious to see Iraq make its mark in the boxing ring with more than just a single fighter.
“It’s crucial that Iraq is part of the Olympic Games but we actually want to win medals, not just to participate,” he said.
“But every day we face security problems. Baghdad is safer now, it’s more around the borders of Iraq where it is still dangerous. But I feel the fighting is coming to an end and hopefully it will finish completely soon.
“As a coach, I only have one fighter right now but I hope to have five or six by the next Olympics.”