Iraq is planning to host Gulf Cup soccer tournament

Adnan Dirjal, Iraq's minister of youth and sports, has gotten the ministry to promote health and fitness and is spearheading the nation's bid to host the 25th Arab Gulf Cup in Basra.

al-monitor Qatari forward Akram Afif (R) reacts after a challenge from Iraqi forward Mohammed Dawood Yaseen (C) during the 2019 AFC Asian Cup Round of 16 soccer match between Qatar and Iraq at Al Nahyan Stadium in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, that Qatar won 1-0 on Jan. 22, 2019. Dawood Yaseen scored a goal on Jan. 27, 2021, in Iraq's 2-1 international friendly match victory over Kuwait in Basra, Iraq. Photo by KARIM SAHIB/AFP via Getty Images

Jan 27, 2021

BAGHDAD — Iraq's national soccer team defeated Kuwait 2-1 on Jan. 27 in an international friendly match at Al-Nakhlah stadium in the Iraqi province of Basra.

Now Iraq is hoping it will win final approval to host the upcoming 25th edition of the Arab Gulf Cup tournament.

The Jan. 27 contest came as the teams prepare for matches that will help determine Asia's representation for the 2022 World Cup and the 2023 Asian Football Confederation Asian Cup.

The only previous time Iraq hosted the Gulf Cup was in 1979, also the first year that Iraq won the competition. It also won in 1984 and 1988.

The match in Basra was a step toward gaining the Arab Gulf Cup Football Federation's trust for hosting the cup, according to the Iraqi minister of youth and sport, Adnan Dirjal. He was hosting a special delegation from the eight-nation federation to inspect Sports City in Basra.

“The delegation, which will attend the friendly match between Iraq and Kuwait at Basra International Stadium, will review the progress of work on Sports City projects and ensure their readiness," Dirjal said.

“Iraq and Kuwait are ready in particular to play a significant role in the upcoming cup,” Dirjal added. Kuwait has won 10 titles, but the last came in 2010.

The two teams have met 40 times in their history, with the Iraqi team winning 17 times, the Kuwaiti team 14 times and nine ties; Iraq has scored 53 goals to Kuwait's 44.

The minister of youth and sport, who was a national soccer star and national team coach, has launched a number of campaigns recently, including a bicycling competition, opening small stadiums in liberated areas and remote areas and even opening golf courses. The majority of these projects have been done with the cooperation of private companies and businesspeople. This is a new approach in dealing with sports in Iraq.

Dirjal, who was a member of various Iraqi League championship teams and of the three Iraqi Gulf Cup tournament winners, is popular and was approved as the minister of youth and sports mainly based on his sports achievements rather than his political experience, which he was short on.

“Not all ministers are available but our doors are always open,” Dirjal said at a Jan. 10 press conference with foreign reporters in Baghdad that Al-Monitor attended.

“When I came to the office, the ministry was almost idle and not working,” Dirjal said. “Additionally, economic crisis and the pandemic have become a big challenge for us to work.”

However, the ministry set up an emergency plan to communicate with Iraq youths through media and online platforms. “We had several training programs run by the ministry in our radio stations, TV channels and social platforms,” he said. 

“The youth responded positively,” Dirjal said.

The sports sector is vital for Iraq, which has a very large youth cohort, but received very little attention due to other priorities such as security and the economy.

The sports sector in Iraq had become almost limited to soccer, but even it received little support from the government in terms of building modern stadiums, training and in other areas.  

In an interview with Al-Monitor, Dirjal said he has built a cooperation network with other ministries such as those dealing with oil and finance to seek their support and also with businesspeople and companies to get the sports sector moving forward.

“We have renewed 16 stadiums during the second half of last year, including Al-Minaa stadium, Nasariyah stadium, Samawah stadium, Kirkuk stadium, Al-Zawra stadium, Al-Madaniya stadium, Anbar stadium, Salahuddin stadium," Dirjal said, “There are 110 other projects as well underway, and we are planning to complete most of them this year.”

The ministry is working on the completion of the multisport Arena Hall and the Baghdad Sport Hospital, in addition to Ninevah and Diyala stadiums during the first half of this year.

The ministry also is involved in the renovation of the Shatt al-Arab hotel — 80% of the work has been completed — which is to be used for the Arab Gulf Cup. The cup is to take place beginning in December, or possibly early next year.

The ministry is facing many challenges, not only financially, but also structurally. Dirjal has formed a committee to reform the structure and drawing policies and regulations for sports federations and clubs. It is also working on reforming Olympic and Paralympic committee law, the ministry of youth and sports law, the sporting champions and pioneers law.

"Youth are our future," Dirjal said, "today's investment will be our future wealth".

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