Dubai: Iraq’s sports officials have slammed the decision to move the 22nd Gulf Cup from Basra to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia as “political”.
Basra was set to host the eight-team tournament at the purpose-built $550 million (Dh2 billion) Basra Sports City in January 2014.
However, a ban on Fifa matches being played in the war-ravaged country on the grounds of safety has forced organisers to switch the host nation. The decision was made by the heads of the eight participating football associations in Manama, Bahrain, on Tuesday.
This is the second time Iraq’s bid to host the event has been overruled, with the 2013 Gulf Cup — held this January — moving from Basra to Manama at short notice.
Iraq have now withdrawn their team from the 2014 competition in protest at the decision, with officials asking why Yemen was allowed to host the event in Aden in 2010 despite similar safety concerns.
A statement from Iraq’s Ministry of Youth and Sports said: “The Ministry expresses its great dismay over the decision by the heads of the football associations that has robbed the right of Basra to host the 22nd Gulf tournament and move it to Jeddah, which has chosen to stand against the wishes of Iraq and the Iraqi people.
“The decision to withdraw from the tournament was not taken lightly as some people believe. It was based on the knowledge about negative stances. Basra’s application to host the tournament was treated with stringent severity, unlike the case of Yemen, where everybody worked together to ensure the success of the tournament.
“Our withdrawal is a vindication of the Iraqi football that we are keen on seeing at all Arab, regional and international events.”
Former secretary of the Iraq Football Association Ahmad Abbas told local TV network Al Sumaria: “The decision is strictly influenced by the stances some Gulf countries take regarding Iraq. It isn’t related in any way to sports. Stances have only a limited influence on this issue in which politics rule.”
Former Iraq national team player Riyadh Abdul Abbas added: “The decision to transfer the Gulf Cup is politically influenced, because the head of the Asian Football Confederation Shaikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa said in a statement that the decision is in the hands of Bahrain’s ruling family. The head of the AFC is not fulfilling his promise that the championship will be held in Basra after visiting Iraq. He only made his promise so Iraqis vote for him in the AFC elections.”
Meanwhile, Fifa vice-president Prince Ali Bin Al Hussain has criticised world football’s governing body’s ban on international matches in Iraq. Iraq played friendlies against Syria and Liberia this year after a previous ban was lifted, but the suspension was reintroduced in July over security concerns.
“I would like to emphasise that Iraq should be able to host friendly matches, whether in the south or the north,” said Al Hussain. “There are other countries facing similar issues but are given the green light, there is no reason to exclude Iraq at this point.”