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Cablegate: Operation Iraqi Baseball: Tigris Tigers Visit Embassy

VZCZCXYZ0013
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHGB #2832/01 2950752
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 220752Z OCT 09
FM AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 5183
INFO RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 0097
RUEHUB/USINT HAVANA 0005
RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL 0045
RUEHDG/AMEMBASSY SANTO DOMINGO 0010
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS 0021
RUEHME/AMEMBASSY MEXICO 0040
RUEHAM/AMEMBASSY AMMAN 2285

UNCLAS BAGHDAD 002832

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR ECA

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KPAO OEXC SCUL CVIS
SUBJECT: OPERATION IRAQI BASEBALL: TIGRIS TIGERS VISIT EMBASSY

REF: STATE 90799

1. Summary: In support of Section IV of the Strategic Framework
Agreement, PAS hosts a number of cultural and social exchanges to
forge stronger connections between our citizens, with particular
emphasis on youth. Baseball and softball are two sports that are
central to our culture and form the basis for wide ranging social
and personal exchanges. To encourage such exchanges in Iraq, PAS is
engaging with the nascent Iraq Baseball Federation. Post hopes to
send Iraqi baseball players and coaches to the U.S. on a Sports
Visitor program and, eventually, to welcome a baseball Sports
Envoy.


2. The Ambassador hosted members of the Iraq National baseball
team, the "Tigris Tigers," along with several of the Tigers women's
softball team members for lunch and some fielding and hitting drills
on October 10. Baseball and softball are not widely known in Iraq,
but with recent support from U.S. donors, the Embassy and Major
League Baseball, there is a chance that the sports could begin to
flourish. End Summary.

Play Ball!

3. The Baghdad-based Tigris Tigers, recently outfitted by the
generosity of U.S. uniform company Ebbets Field, had no equipment
until their plight was highlighted this summer in several McClatchy
articles and their cause was then championed by Rachel Maddow on
MSNBC. At an Embassy barbecue on October 10, the young Iraqi men
and women engaged in spirited conversation with embassy officers
about our national pastime. Sketches of plays, and rules and
strategies helped bridge the language gap. Televised highlights of
U.S. baseball games also provided entertainment. After lunch, the
Iraqi baseball and softball players received practical tips from,
and practiced with, Embassy staff who share their love of the game.
Eight baseball players and four softball players were accompanied to
the two and a half hour event by the Secretary General of the Iraq
Baseball Federation and their coach.

Universal Language of Beisbol

4. The Ambassador, wearing a signed Daisuke Matsuzaka Red Sox
jersey, told the Iraqi players that the Japanese pitcher had
succeeded in the major leagues for three years without speaking
English, noting that it does not take English to throw the ball
hard. He lauded the group's efforts to learn a quintessentially
American game and encouraged them to continue their efforts. He
awarded the women's softball team's catcher with an Embassy coin,
honoring her as MVP of the barbecue and scrimmage - despite a bloody
nose from a fast pitch, she was smiling when she left the Embassy.


Baseball Across Iraq?

5. The Iraq Baseball Federation's Secretary General Ali Abdul
Hussein Jassim told emboffs that Baghdad, Basra, Maysan, Mosul,
Diwaniya, and Kirkuk are each home to men's baseball and women's
softball teams. (NOTE: The teams are likely little more than a
group of interested players who meet occasionally. END NOTE)
Assistant Coach Yasir Abdul Hassan Mazyan noted that teams face
difficult conditions; they lack sponsorship and play games in
sandlots or on soccer fields and have limited regulation equipment.
Coach Bashar Salah Jabbar recounted how on August 12,
representatives of McClatchy News Services delivered mitts, cleats,
bats, and baseballs donated by a New York sporting goods company to
his team. Press reports note that the Tigers are the national team
by dint of having won a tournament versus the other teams in Iraq
Qby dint of having won a tournament versus the other teams in Iraq
and were reconstituted from a team that was disbanded during the
height of the insurgency. Coach Bashar told emboff that extremists
threatened him in emails and telephone calls, accusing him and his
teammates of playing "an 'Occupation' game."

Bases Loaded: Tigers Fans in the MLB

6. On October 7, the bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs
told post that Major League Baseball (MLB) responded favorably to
the request for assistance for the Tigers and the Iraq Baseball
Federation (IBF). In addition to rule books, instructional videos
and equipment, MLB pledged to send equipment for adults as well as
10-14 year olds. Emboffs are seeking partners at youth centers
and/or sports clubs to build Iraq's first Little League baseball
team. In addition to equipment, Iraq lacks dedicated fields to play
on. Post is working with the Iraq Baseball Federation and relevant
city officials to help secure land for a field.

Spring Training

7. Per ECA's call in reftel, post has applied to send a group of
Iraqi players and coaches to the U.S. in March 2010 to attend a
skills camp and observe MLB spring training as part of a sports
diplomacy program.

Sport in Iraq

8. Soccer remains the king of team sports in Iraq, followed closely
by basketball and handball. As we develop more cultural and growth
exchanges as per the Strategic Framework Agreement, we will continue
to expand our sports programming to connect to Iraqi youth. There
is interest in baseball and with encouragement and some funding,
prospects to develop baseball in Iraq are looking up.

FORD

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