Four dead, dozens injured in stampede at Gulf Cup in Iraq

Stampede takes place at a stadium in Basra ahead of the Arabian Gulf Cup final between Iraq and Oman.

At least four people have been killed and dozens injured in a stampede at a stadium in Basra in southern Iraq ahead of the Arabian Gulf Cup final, according to Iraqi football officials.

Reporting from Basra, Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Abdelwahed said a number of the about 80 injured people were “in critical condition” after the incident on Thursday.

The match took place on Thursday night and Iraq defeated Oman 3-2, winning the eight-nation tournament.

Thousands of fans without tickets had gathered outside Basra International Stadium since dawn in hopes of watching the rare home international match.

A photographer with the Agence France-Presse news agency inside the stadium said the turnstiles were still closed when the stampede broke out. Sirens blared as ambulances arrived to ferry the injured to hospital.

Abdelwahed said some people without tickets tried to push into the stadium, according to sources in stadium security.

Images posted on social media showed a sea of people outside the stadium.

‘Such chaos’

Football fan Moumen Adnan described to Al Jazeera how he was injured outside the stadium.

“I did not expect such chaos to happen,” he said. “Because of the stampede, I fell and injured my hand. I hadn’t been able to enter the stadium, but because of the stampede I entered through the journalists gate.”

Iraq’s interior ministry in a statement urged people who did not have tickets for the final to leave the area around the stadium. It said the stadium was full and all gates had been closed.

“The numbers of fans are very large, and we do not want there to be cases of suffocation,” he said in a statement.

Soccer fans attempt to enter the Basra International Stadium to watch the final match of the 25th Arabian Gulf Cup between Iraq and Oman, in Basra, Iraq January 19, 2023. REUTERS/Mohammed Aty NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES
Football fans try to enter Basra International Stadium to watch the final of the Arabian Gulf Cup between Iraq and Oman [Mohammed Aty/Reuters]

Al Jazeera’s Abdelwahed said that according to the Iraqi Football Federation, about 90 percent of the tickets were already sold ahead of the kickoff, adding that this upset many Iraqi football fans, some of whom had travelled across several provinces to go to the game.

In order to “alleviate the anger” of fans who were turned back from the vicinity of the stadium, authorities set up large screens in fan zones in main squares in the city “to give them an opportunity to watch the match outdoors”, Abdelwahed said.

Interactive_Iraq football stadium stampede-revised

Iraq was already forced to apologise to its neighbour Kuwait after a scuffle in the VIP section prevented its representative from attending the opening ceremony.

The tournament started on January 6 with teams from Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen and Iraq.

It is the first time since 1979 that Iraq has hosted the tournament. Decades of sanctions on Iraq had prevented the country from hosting any sports events.

Abdelwahed said tens of thousands of people had arrived from abroad, putting “more pressure on the already weak infrastructure of the city”.

“The authorities say they are lucky to host such a special event, but the city is not as fully prepared as it should be,” he said. “Basra has been suffering from several problems in past decades, such as a lack of services, security vacuums and a lot of conflicts even recently.”

Abdelwahed said the central government in Baghdad does not have any development plans for the southern city “despite the fact that Basra is a rich city, 70 percent of Iraqi oil [comes from Basra], it is still suffering and it’s partly marginalised.”

Additional reporting by Ismael Adnan in Basra, Iraq.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies