Kurds look to UK to reach summit of sports achievement
Kurdistan in Northern Iraq has turned to England and Wales for help in setting up school sport programmes to breed a generation of elite athletes.
The regional government of the war-torn country hopes that, after years of conflict, sport can bring communities together and offer children a better quality of life.
Kurdistan hosted a delegation from the Sports Council for Wales and the Youth Sport Trust, which oversees specialist sports colleges in England, for a two-day conference in the region's capital of Erbil.
Huw Jones, chief executive of the Sports Council for Wales, said Kurdistan wanted to emulate his country's sporting success.
"Politically, Wales and Kurdistan share broadly similar structures and, with a population of 4 million, the region is just bigger than Wales," he said. "They are very keen to develop sports opportunities and are looking at our structures for advice.
"They will be looking at the work we do in schools and in communities, as well as how we help sportsmen and women achieve at the highest levels."
Paul Tebay, assistant headteacher and director of sport at King Edward VII School in King's Lynn, Norfolk, addressed the conference about the importance of building grass-roots sport in schools.
"One of the many problems they face is that they have no workforce and ethos for delivering sport outside of school hours," he said.
"We use students to lead sessions, but that concept was unheard of (in Kurdistan).
"They were very complimentary about what we are doing, but are a long way from being able to do it themselves.
"The facilities are very poor. One of the buildings is used by three different schools on a shift basis. They simply don't have the facilities to deliver traditional PE."
Mr Tebay said schools needed to harness the enthusiasm of pupils to deliver coaching and sports clubs and explained about the sports leadership courses available to pupils in England.
"There's a huge amount of goodwill and desire," he said. "They are keen to make things happen and see sport as a way of lifting morale and re-engaging young people."
Trevor Smith, national development manager at the Youth Sport Trust, said there were very few specialist PE teachers in Kurdistan and called for more support to be given to the country's 6,000 schools.
He said that by engaging young people and the wider community, progress could be made quickly before the longer-term development of new facilities.
"Travelling there was an unforgettable experience," he said. "There is a real will among the people of Kurdistan region to create a strong sporting culture."