fYour work and folklore, grand gestures and pride as a host – even if it was far less bombastic: The pictures from Basra in southern Iraq, where the “Gulf Cup” opened on Friday evening, were a little reminiscent of the World Cup in Qatar. Even FIFA boss Gianni Infantino had come. Iraqi Prime Minister Muhammad Shia al-Sudani spoke of a “historic” moment and a demonstration of “brotherhood” among the Arab Gulf countries.
It is the first time since 1979 that Iraq has hosted the tournament again. For a long time, the conditions in the country did not even allow the national team to play their home games at home. There was the American invasion that overthrew the despot Saddam Hussein in 2003. A period of power struggles, civil war and bombing terror and a long war of attrition followed to erase the “Islamic State” from the map.
Praise for the new stadiums
A football tournament, even just a regional one, is a big deal for a country where the state of emergency has long been the norm. And the “Gulf Cup” continues a trend: the entire region was gripped by a proud Arab sense of community during the World Cup in November. Now the unifying power of sport is invoked in Iraq. Here the “Gulf Cup” is intended to mark a moment of hope and departure for better times. Basra governor Asaad al-Eidani sees a “step forward” for Iraq towards “a normal position” in sport or culture.
And many residents of neglected and run-down Basra, whose littered streets and fetid waterways are alien to infrastructure projects or government services, are also pleased that the city has been spruced up as best it could for the big event. Ahmad Omar, a soccer player who plays for the student national team, is already excited about bigger tournaments on the horizon and praises the new stadiums and the new five-star hotels. “We’re ready,” he announces.
Hassan Nakeel, a sports journalist, says: “The tournament has breathed new life into Iraqi sport and Basra.” Finally, his hometown and its residents have a chance to show their hospitable and generous side.
For a long time, Basra’s image was defined by headlines dealing with violence and lawlessness. Recently, reports of drug smuggling have increased. Basra, conveniently located for the networks, has become a hub for the regional drug trade. Involved tribal networks are protected by powerful militias and covered by corrupt government officials. Crowds of unemployed young Iraqis make a good home drug market.
Complaints about black market trading in tickets
And that the future will be better is just as uncertain as peace within Iraq. As late as September, Basra was rocked by fighting between rival Shia militias. The background is a power struggle in Baghdad, which in the meantime has allowed the specter of a new civil war to evade. A political blockade that had lasted about a year was only resolved in October. Prime Minister Sudani and his team, like all other governments before them, have promised to fight rampant and deep-rooted corruption. But the new management is met with a good deal of skepticism.
A scuffle in the VIP area of the stadium during the opening ceremony and fan complaints about the flourishing black market trade in the coveted tickets showed that Basra is still a long, long way from Doha. Critics warn that the nice appearance of the soccer tournament shouldn’t obscure the Iraqi grievances.
The money would have been better invested in things like electricity supply or finding solutions for the slum dwellers. In Basra they were given a symbolic through ball: illegal shantytowns there were simply hidden from the view of visitors with screens.
The Iraqi national team did their part to keep the enthusiasm from getting too big. She played against Oman. It was 0-0.
#Gulf #Cup #soccer #tournament #supposed #breathe #life #Iraq