In a city south of Baghdad, Najaf youths are seen free running and participating in an activity known for its speed and efficiency: Parkour. Parkour is derived from the French “Le Parkour”; however the movement of free running was always applied in the Eastern martial arts.
The sport found popularity throughout Europe and the United States attracting athletes to take part in the Middle East as well. In Iraq young men use the walls of old houses as their personal obstacle course.
The participants train their movements around their environment by vaulting, rolling, running, climbing and jumping. As well as being able to identify and utilize alternate or the more efficient paths.
Muhannad, a traceurs (parkour practitioner) along with his friends, established an Iraqi Najaf Parkour team. The team leader, Muhannad told Al Arabiya group that “violence and fighting has spread throughout Iraqi society. We have abandoned violence and found freedom, flexibility, speed and strength in this sport which relieves us from stress and urges us to be violent and fight each other.”
Muhannad however expressed that this sport is not always pleasant as often the participants end locked up in jail for their activities.
“We want to practice freely without being harassed or hurt. Thanks to this sport, youths are being carried away from bad habits and oriented towards a healthy game that promotes strong body and mind,” said Muhannad.
Majed, son of an Iraqi father and a Syrian mother, expressed his hope to see the sport supported in Iraq. “We hope someone would turn to us and support us. We are ready to innovate and excel in this activity, but unfortunately there is no one interested in what we do,” he complained.
These young men have succeeded in introducing Parkour to Iraqi society starting with the city of Najaf known for its conservative and religious aspects; however the streets now are witnessing for the first time “Runaway Traceurs” leaping from one building to the other.
Traceurs are youths from the city itself; some permanent residents and others Iraqi migrants who returned home after 2003.
Parkour can be practiced anywhere.
Arabic report: Mountazer Rashid
Translation: Stanela Khalil
English adaptation: Nadia Idriss Mayen