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25th Arabian Gulf Cup to be Hosted in Basra, Iraq

posted on: Dec 28, 2022

Photo: Gulf Cup Match / Credit: Wikimedia Commons

By: Mariam Alyakoob / Arab America Contributing Writer

What is the Arabian Gulf Cup 

Photo: 2019 Arabian Gulf Cup Mascot / Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Arabian Gulf Cup is a biennial football tournament that occurs in eight Arab countries. The countries include Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. The first tournament was held in 1970, with Kuwait having won the tournament that year. The event is hosted by eight members of the Arab Gulf Cup Football Federation. 

The 2023 Arabian Gulf Cup will take place in Basra, Iraq in the month of January, most likely due to the cool weather suitable for playing conditions. The eight teams who battle for the championship are split up into two groups: Group A and Group B. Group A will see matches between Iraq, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. Group B will see matches between Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. Winners of the group matches proceed to the Semi-Finals, and then each Semi-Final winner competes in a final tournament for the champions title. 

The country with the most titles would be Kuwait with a total of ten wins, most of which came prior to the 2000s, while Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar were the runner-ups with three titles each. 

Basra, Iraq 

Photo: Basra Cultural Museum / Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Basra is a city located in southern Iraq that encompasses a deep history and culture. The city was founded under the second caliphate, Umar I in AD 638. By the 17th century, the city was an enticing destination for travelers, given its location near the gulf and by the 19th century had developed a transshipment port for river traffic to Baghdad. The canals of Basra were even once known as the “Venice of the East”.

But since the great amount of instability the government and country have been facing for the past 30 years or so, Basra is no longer viewed as the ‘Venice of the East”. The canals that once served as the water source for the city had become polluted with garbage and had become undrinkable. 

The city is also filled with Iraq’s largest oil reserves, making around 80% of the total oil in the country, which should have allowed it to create advancements for the region and potentially become a booming metropolis city, yet this expectation was shattered in 2014 with the rise of the Islamic State. The Islamic State was never able to reach the city but the impact of the conflict across the country affected the city, which was never able to continue with the pace of development. 

Arabian Gulf Cup in Basra

Photo: 2016 Photo of Iraq’s Men’s Football Team / Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The 25th Arabian Gulf Cup will be hosted in Basra which would be a sign of huge progress for the city and the country as well. This would mean that Iraq would have hosted the tournament for the first time in over 40 years, having hosted it once before in 1979. In the past, Iraq has also been banned from participating in the tournament before, most notably in 1990 due to the Iraqi Invasion of Kuwait. 

The Arabian Gulf Cup is by no means the biggest football tournament to exist, it is nowhere near the same length as the FIFA World Cup. But it is still important to the people who live in the countries that are participating who would like to support their teams that bring pride to their countries.

Hosting the tournament in Iraq would mean that there would be an influx of visitors from other countries near the Persian Gulf who would like to support their teams. Iraq has even waived any visa fees for fans from the region who are visiting to watch the tournament, and have started selling tickets to the tournament starting December 24th. 

FIFA had originally suspended international football matches from taking place in Iraq due to security concerns but lifted the ban on Iraqi stadiums in February of 2022. The Arabian Gulf Cup was actually meant to take place in Iraq for the past three previous tournaments, but the venue continued to change and the tournaments were hosted in other countries again due to safety concerns in Iraq.

But for the 25th tournament, it has been solidified that it will take place in the beautiful city of Basra and will be held in two stadiums with capacities of up to 65,000 in the Basra International Stadium and 30,000 in their newly built Al-Minaa Olympic Stadium. Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa bin Ahmed Al Thani, President of the Arab Gulf Cup Football Federation (AGCFF), applauded Iraq and the city of Basra and acknowledged the progress in infrastructure and development that was made in the city in the past couple of years to support the tournament. 

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammad Al- Sudani views the tournament as an opportunity that could help strengthen relations between Iraq and the rest of the Gulf countries. Hosting the tournament in Basra means more than just hope for strengthening formal ties across these countries, it means hope for the people and the country and it could be a sign of recovery after years of political turmoil. As we have seen with the FIFA World Cup hosted in Qatar, having an important sports tournament in one’s country brings much pride to the community and the people of that country. 

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