About 50,000 Gulf nationals flocked to support their teams

The "Gulf 25" championship in Iraq turned into celebrations of Arab unity

  • A banner raised in the Shatt al-Arab Corniche containing the flags of the participating countries to welcome them.


  • A model of Sinbad the Sailor greets the guests of the Arabian Gulf Cup.



When the lights went out in the Basra International Amphitheater, the party began, and Sinbad, that legendary sailor from the "Thousand and One Nights" stories, emerged from the darkness to salute the audience, and lights and laser beams danced across the sports stadium.

For a full hour, Iraqi musicians, dancers and actors transported the audience on a journey through thousands of years of Iraqi history. The famous Iraqi singer Hussam al-Rassam sang, "We are the flame of the world."

The scene on January 6 represented the start of the 25th Arabian Gulf Football Championship, which Iraq hosted for the first time since 1979, given that this country seeks to turn the page on the past decades that were characterized by violence, instability, and isolation.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani, who attended the opening ceremony of the tournament, along with a number of Arab officials and FIFA President Gianni Infantino, said, “This tournament is an opportunity that can help strengthen relations between Iraq and the rest of the Gulf countries.

It will be an indication of recovery from the lean years and political turmoil.”

first chance

Countries from the Cooperation Council for the Arab Gulf States, in addition to Yemen and Iraq, participate in this tournament, which takes place every two years.

Just as the World Cup in Doha contributed to introducing the culture of the Arab Gulf to the outside world, the establishment of the Gulf Championship in Basra contributed to giving many Gulf citizens their first opportunity to visit Iraq.

For the locals in Basra, it was the rare opportunity to witness international soccer matches in their city, as well as to express their national pride.

Basra taxi driver Hussam Al-Muthanna, 27, said, “Despite the fierce competition between the Gulf countries to win the championship, the important thing for us in the first place was to honor our guests after a long absence.

We are neighbors and cousins, even if we are forced to distance ourselves due to political circumstances.”

Relaxation of visa restrictions

The number of Gulf visitors amounted to about 50,000, and they flocked during the past two weeks, according to the Iraqi authorities, given that the authorities eased the restrictions imposed on the Basra borders, and provided a free entry visa.

They all headed towards Basra, the second largest city in Iraq, where they were greeted with Gulf banners and flags.

Visitors flocked to the Corniche, which runs parallel to the Shatt al-Arab River, the city's main tourist attraction, and the streets were bustling with enthusiasm, especially during matches.

And when the Iraqi team beat Yemen 5-0, dance parties erupted, and the sky was filled with fireworks.

And that joy went beyond mere sport.

"We feel very happy with the presence of our brothers, and we hope that this championship will not end," said Iraqi coffee seller Muhammad, on the Corniche, who was refusing to accept the price of his coffee from the Gulf visitors.

Although Basra floats on a sea of ​​oil worth billions of dollars, its people do not benefit from this wealth, as almost half of the city's population lives below the poverty line, while a quarter of young men are unemployed.

Unlimited generosity

But as a result of the Gulf football tournament, the city's hotels are now fully booked, while local residents have opened their homes to the Gulf nationals.

For the first time, the residents of the region felt confused by the generosity they saw.

Ibrahim Ali, 40, an Omani fan, said, "Without exaggeration, everyone was ready to host you in their homes, and the city stayed up all night."

"I came from Kuwait with my car a week ago, and until now I have not spent a single dinar, everything we get is free," Kuwaiti Salim Mubarak said, in a state of astonishment.

Gianni Infantino:

“This tournament is an opportunity that can help strengthen relations between Iraq and the rest of the Gulf countries.

It will be an indication of recovery from the lean years and political turmoil.”

Mustafa Selim: Washington Post correspondent in Baghdad

Follow our latest local and sports news and the latest political and economic developments via Google news