Between the 6th and 19th of January, Basra, located in the south of the country, will host the 25th edition of the Arabian Gulf Cup (AGC), a football tournament among Gulf Arab countries that first happened in Bahrain in 1970. This will be the first time Iraq will be the host of a major international football event since it was the venue and winner of the AGC in 1979.
Eight squads from different parts of the region, namely Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen, will take part in the competition. The games will be held at Basra International Stadium and Al-Minaa Olympic Stadium, which can accommodate 65,000 and 30,000 spectators respectively.
After Iraq was prohibited from participating in the tournament from 1990 to 2004 due to its 1990 invasion of Kuwait, this year’s edition marks a significant return for the country. In November 2019, the Arab Gulf Cup Football Federation declared Basra, Iraq as the host city, demonstrating Iraq’s reemergence as a relevant player in the region.
The organization of this tournament is a sign of Iraq’s improved relations with other Arab countries and Gulf states that were previously far apart. It is Baghdad’s way of showing that Iraq is now secure, steady and welcoming to visitors.
Organizers have taken extra steps to make sure that it is easier for supporters to attend matches. This year’s AGC is said to be the most attended in the event’s history. They established an online ticket service and sold tickets directly at retail stores, with prices between 10 and 30 USD for two matches, which caused a huge surge in ticket requests.
Although ahead of the tournament, there have been allegations of mishandling ticket sales, unpopular attempts by authorities to cordon off informal settlements and calls by Islamists to ban singing and dancing.
Additionally, after Iraq launched online ticket sales in four categories, with prices ranging from $10 to $30 last month, many fans say tickets are still out of reach at the official price, with thousands having been channelled to the black market. Some say prices hit as much as $300 to $400 for VIP seats for the opening ceremony.
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