Enthusiastic Gulf visitors descend on Basra as football opens Iraq to tourists

Fans, influencers from Saudi to the UAE embrace 25th Arabian Gulf Cup as security fears fade in Cradle of Civilization. (FILE/AFP)
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Updated 09 January 2023

Enthusiastic Gulf visitors descend on Basra as football opens Iraq to tourists

  • Fans, influencers from Saudi to the UAE embrace 25th Arabian Gulf Cup as security fears fade in Cradle of Civilization

BASRA: For decades Iraq’s ancient cultural attractions were closed to international tourists because of the ongoing conflict in the country, including a strict sanctions regime, but this has seemingly all changed with the 25th Arabian Gulf Cup.

Having spent time over the years in Iraq reporting on the conflict, I had never seen cars with number plates from any neighboring countries. Now seeing plates from Oman, Kuwait, the UAE and others was heart-warming, heightened by the fact that it takes many hours to drive to the country.

Full of cultural and historic artifacts and attractions, from the Ziggurat of Ur to the remains of Babylon, Iraq had always been a hotspot for tourism. Sadly, however, access dwindled from the late 1980s onwards.

One barrier has always been the difficulty to gain visas, unless they were for religious tourism. In 2019, the rules were relaxed for Western passport holders, and a visa-on-arrival scheme allowed for a plethora of foreign bloggers to explore Iraq. Residents and citizens from Arab countries still had problems, until the current Arabian Gulf Cup, with many jumping at the opportunity to visit.

“It was important for me to be here and support Iraq because of the years of crisis it’s been through,” explained Lorns Amean, a popular Jordanian travel vlogger. “I have travelled all over the world, and I have never seen hospitality greater than what the Iraqis have given us.”

Throughout the World Cup in Qatar, I would often bump into Saudi Arabian fans and tourists. When they discovered I was Iraqi, I would see their faces light up. On multiple occasions they would tell me, quite excitedly, about their plans to visit for the Gulf tournament or would ask about the security situation. And if it would be safe to travel given that the media portrayals have created an image of the country being synonymous with war.

The security situation has been a major concern for some. One Iraqi resident of Qatar, who preferred to remain anonymous, described to me how her parents feared letting her visit Basra for the tournament for precisely this reason.

Understanding the concerns of some Middle Eastern countries, Mustafa, a 30-year-old Iraqi, at a gathering of Kuwaiti and Iraq fans in Basra, explained: “We are actually victims of the media. This is our reality, we go to restaurants, to malls, we wish more would see this.”

The security in Iraq has improved considerably from the days of sectarian violence and ISIS terrorism, and hosting the Arabian Gulf Cup is a step in the right direction for the nation to reclaim its narrative in the media.

“We knew Iraq was the opposite to what the media had been showing us and it’s really proved that during our time here,” said Ahmed Al-Hamadi, a 23-year-old Emirati student who came from Sharjah to support the UAE. “We’ve been going out every day since we arrived, going to restaurants, the corniche and have loved every single moment and had no issues.”

In fact, for many fans, Iraq’s current climate has shattered preconceived notions.

“We’ve been welcomed at every moment of our journey here,” said Souad Mohammed, a 26-year-old Emirati accounting graduate. “From the airport, to accessing the hotel to entering the stadium, it was all made easy for us.”

The Arabian Gulf Cup represents Iraq’s re-emergence onto the international scene as tourists from across the Gulf have enjoyed the nation’s stability. Let’s hope the tournament acts as a catalyst for tourists to continue visiting the nation that has, as Bassam Mahdi sings in one of the cup’s official songs, “sorely missed its brothers.”

Niemann wins in Saudi Arabia for 2nd LIV Golf title of the year

Updated 6 sec ago

Niemann wins in Saudi Arabia for 2nd LIV Golf title of the year

  • Niemann now has three wins in the last three months

KING ABDULLAH ECONOMIC CITY, Saudi Arabia: Joaquin Niemann won his second LIV Golf title in three starts, closing with a 4-under 66 on Sunday at LIV Golf Jeddah for a four-shot victory over Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel.
Niemann now has three wins in the last three months, starting with the Australian Open victory in December that allowed him to rejoin the European tour and eventually put him on the path toward getting invited to the Masters.
Niemann started his third season on the Saudi-funded league by opening with a 59 at Mayakoba and winning in a playoff over Sergio Garcia. Now he soars to the top of the points list with another win ahead of next week’s LIV event in Hong Kong.
“We’ve got another week to come,” Niemann said. “I told myself I can win these three weeks I’m playing. So next week and see what happens.”
He finished third in an Asian Tour event in Oman last week.
No one got closer than two shots of Niemann in the final round at Royal Greens. Oosthuizen was the last challenger until a bogey on the 16th hole. He shot 67, while Schwartzel had a 68.
Niemann also took a dig at the world ranking in his interview with LIV’s broadcast team. He was asked if he was one of the leading favorites to win a major this year.
“How is that possible? I’m like 100 in the world,” Niemann said with a grin.
Niemann is No. 72 in the world. The Official World Golf Ranking, in a vote cast by the organizations that run the majors, chose not to award LIV ranking points because of the small field (54 players) that functions as a closed shop with no qualifying.
Anthony Kim, who had gone 12 years without competitive golf until signing a deal with LIV Golf this week, had a 74 and finished his week in last place, 33 shots out of the lead. He made two birdies on Sunday, giving him four birdies for the week.
Kim’s deal allows him to play the rest of LIV’s events this year without being attached to a team.
Crushers won the team event on Sunday.
Niemann finished at 17-under 193 and earned $4 million, giving him $8,162,000 in three LIV events this year.
The Masters gave Niemann an invitation based on his Australian Open victory, along with two other top-5 performances in European tour events. The Australian Open win gets him into the British Open and his performance is likely to earn him a spot in the PGA Championship.
He would have to qualify for the US Open, unless he were to win the Masters. The 25-year-old Chilean is getting plenty of attention with his two victories this year.
“I’m more than happy about the way I’m playing,” Niemann said. “I just want to keep on the same path. I’m pretty proud of the way I played all week.”

UAE Pro League review: Al-Wasl maintain 8-point lead over Al-Ain at top of table

Al-Wasl have an 8-point lead over Al-Ain at the top of the ADNOC Pro League. (@AlWaslSC)
Updated 57 min ago

UAE Pro League review: Al-Wasl maintain 8-point lead over Al-Ain at top of table

  • Walter Zenga’s Emirates endure another defeat, look set for drop

DUBAI: Relentless leaders Al-Wasl heaped pressure on Cosmin Olaroiu’s underperforming Sharjah, Spain icon Andres Iniesta’s sinking Emirates Club looked doomed, and Farhad Majidi’s inconsistent Ittihad Kalba-reign was brought to an ignominious end during ADNOC Pro League’s matchweek 15.

Friday’s grandstand clash in Dubai witnessed goals from Abdulrahman Saleh and outstanding UAE attacker Ali Saleh to maintain Al-Wasl’s grip on their first title since 2006-07 with a 2-0 triumph, while pushing star-studded Sharjah 13 points off the pace.

On the same evening, Tunisia playmaker Haykeul Chikhaoui’s ferocious opener sent improving Ajman on their way to a 2-0 win which moved them nine points away from danger and pushed Walter Zenga’s bottom-placed Emirates – enduring a 10-match losing streak – eight points from safety.

Fellow promoted outfit Hatta showed fight in a 5-3 reversal at AFC Champions League quarter-finalists Al-Ain and third-placed holders Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club required an instant brace by substitute Yuri Cesar in an eventual 3-0 victory at 10-man Khor Fakkan.

Shambolic defending caused 13th-placed Kalba’s 2-1 loss to Al-Bataeh and was followed by the exit of former Iran under-23 and Esteghlal boss Majidi after almost two years at the helm. Ex-Brazil and Napoli defensive midfielder Allan netted an unlikely pair to hand Al-Wahda the Abu Dhabi Derby spoils in a pulsating 3-2 defeat for Mirel Radoi’s unconvincing Al-Jazira, while Alfred Schreuder’s flourishing Al-Nasr rose to sixth with a 1-0 triumph versus Baniyas – their fourth in five top-flight fixtures.

Here are Arab News’ top picks and a talking point from the latest action.

Player of the week: Allan (Al-Wahda)

Al-Wahda supporters could have been tricked into thinking they had landed Kaka, instead of Allan.

Their skipper’s granite reputation was earned via winning countless midfield battles in Serie A and the Premier League, rather than through artfully dispatched doubles.

Saturday’s unexpected turn, however, made all the difference on home soil when they welcomed floundering near-neighbors Al-Jazira to Al-Nahyan Stadium.

It was quite the way to open his ADNOC Pro League account, after being recruited back in September 2022.

A deft dummied shot and incisive strike through numerous flailing Pride of Abu Dhabi-defenders made it 2-0 on 41 minutes. The 33-year-old had also clipped in the 17th-minute free-kick from which on-form Iran midfielder Ahmad Nourollahi eventually back-heel half-volleyed the opener.

Even better was to come past the hour mark. By that point, a frantic derby had swung back toward the Pride of Abu Dhabi after ex-Fulham player Neeskens Kebano struck twice to make it 2-2.

Allan’s stepover at pace on the edge of the penalty box sent retreating Moroccan youngster Mohammed Rabii off balance, prior to lashing into the roof of stranded UAE goalkeeper Ali Khaseif’s net. It was a fitting winner for a high-quality and high-drama clash.

For fourth-placed Al-Wahda, January’s call to draft in former Ajman miracle-worker Goran Tufegdzic has been rewarded with seven points from nine. Al-Jazira, meanwhile, are yet to ignite since snaffling ex-Romania boss Radoi from Bataeh and slipped to seventh.

Goal of the week: Ali Saleh (Al-Wasl)

Whatever challenge is put in front of Al-Wasl, they have got the firepower to overcome it.

Their ninth win from their last 10 top-flight outings was sealed by homegrown hero Saleh.

The 24-year-old collected UAE colleague Caio Canedo’s flicked header, composed himself and then curled past helpless Sharjah goalkeeper Adel Al-Hosani from 20 yards. It was a beautiful way to produce a seventh goal contribution in 14 matches.

Al-Wasl remain in control of their title destiny, eight-points ahead of Al-Ain with a game extra played. It also feels increasingly perplexing why Saleh was handed just 210 minutes on the way to the UAE’s dispiriting round-of-16 exit at 2023 Asian Cup.

Coach of the week: Daniel Isaila (Ajman)

A fine rescue job is being performed by Daniel Isaila at 11th-placed Ajman.

Last season’s dark horses in sixth spot had rapidly declined to relegation certainties under Caio Zanardi. Friday’s consummate win against Emirates featured 13 attempts on target to the visitors’ three, even with Iniesta starting in the league for the first time since Dec. 1.

Isaila has transformed horizons since October’s hire. The acumen which evolved outsiders Baniyas into shock 2020/21 runners-up has been transplanted at Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Stadium.

What to do with Olaroiu?

It is not unfair, or unkind, to expect far more from fifth-placed Sharjah.

Their third league loss of a befuddling campaign has kept The King far away from the crown. A points deficit counted in double digits with 11 matches still to play was not expected when the 2023-24 season kicked off.

It is an unbalanced team which is performing below the sum of their parts. Worryingly, serial trophy hoarder Olaroiu’s once-golden touch appears to be waning.

“I am not the one who makes the decisions regarding contracts with players,” was the Romanian’s pointed comment post-match, according to Dubai Sports.

What happens next is the glaring question.

Sharjah’s 11 at Zabeel Stadium contained ex-Barcelona and Juventus superstar Miralem Pjanic, ex-Porto and Al-Hilal attacker Moussa Marega, 184-goal UAE veteran Sebastian Tagliabue, and South Korea’s World Cup 2022 performer Cho Yu-min. They boasted more possession (55 percent/45 percent) and attempts (14/12), yet Al-Wasl’s greater desire proved crucial.

Last season’s disappointing seventh-place finish was forgiven, amid an unprecedented sweep of four domestic trophies. This term, however, has been stained by group-stage collapse in the AFC Champions League, quarter-final elimination in the ADIB Cup, a 6-2 humiliation to Shabab Al-Ahli in the UAE Super Cup, and failure to threaten in the ADNOC Pro League.

Schreuder’s ascendant Al-Nasr and Al-Ain await, either side of the international break. This could be a situation careering toward breaking point.

Sharjah rookie grabs dramatic win as Team Abu Dhabi get top 10 finish

Updated 03 March 2024

Sharjah rookie grabs dramatic win as Team Abu Dhabi get top 10 finish

  • Rusty Wyatt makes perfect start at Grand Prix of Indonesia, the opening race of the 2024 UIM F1H2O World Championship

ABU DHABI: Sharjah rookie Rusty Wyatt recorded a dramatic victory in the Grand Prix of Indonesia today as Team Abu Dhabi battled through a tough start to the 2024 UIM F1H2O World Championship.

Reigning world champion Jonas Andersson looked poised for a record fifth race win in a row but dropped to third place as Wyatt and Victory Team’s Erik Stark both passed him in a sensational finish.

Making his Team Abu Dhabi debut and starting down the field after a broken engine in qualifying, Alberto Comparato climbed seven places on the day to finish inside the top 10.

The young Italian will now be aiming for a big improvement on his ninth place when the second round at the end of this month introduces Vietnam as the latest new championship venue.

His Abu Dhabi teammate, Thani Al-Qemzi, will equally be looking for a change in fortunes next time out. Starting his 153rd Grand Prix in ninth spot following a disappointing qualifying run, the veteran Emirati driver reached the finish in seventh place. He later collected a one-lap penalty for a start infringement and dropped to 12th.

After a false start caused by a technical issue, Stark looked to have grabbed an important advantage over Andersson as he squeezed past his fellow Swede on the first lap before the race was halted when Ferdinand Zandbergen crashed out.

Andersson regained control from the re-start and shrugged off several attacks by Stark before the final lap saw them tussling for the win down the last straight, both boats slowing with technical issues.

As the Victory driver squeezed ahead, Wyatt powered his way through on the outside right at the finish to become the first rookie to win a Grand Prix. Sharjah’s Canadian driver takes an immediate lead in the championship from Stark, and Al-Qemzi and Comparato will be determined to ensure that the UAE has three teams challenging for honors as the season progresses.

Team Abu Dhabi have secured 17 world championship titles since Guido Cappellini took over as team manager in 2015, and the Italian racing legend is determined to deliver more success to Abu Dhabi Marine Sports Club.

His meticulous planning and attention to detail will be aimed at giving Al-Qemzi and Comparato a significant boost to see them challenging for podium places in Vietnam.

Green snatches HSBC Women's World Championship with dramatic birdie on 18

Updated 03 March 2024

Green snatches HSBC Women's World Championship with dramatic birdie on 18

  • Green completed a hat trick of birdies over the closing holes to snatch victory when her snaking putt on the 18th green curled into the cup to a huge ovation
  • It was the Australian’s first win in Asia and also eased the heartbreak of finishing second in Singapore three years ago

SINGAPORE: Australia’s Hannah Green drained a remarkable 30-foot birdie putt at the final hole to edge Celine Boutier of France and win the HSBC Women’s World Championship by a stroke in Singapore on Sunday.

The US LPGA Tour’s flagship event in Asia had looked like it was heading for a playoff after Boutier’s 5-under 67 put her in the clubhouse at 12-under par and for Green to draw level with birdies at the 16th and 17th.

But the Australian completed a hat trick of birdies over the closing holes to snatch victory when her snaking putt on the 18th green curled into the cup to a huge ovation.

“I knew I needed to at least birdie the last to win by one,” said world No. 29 Green, who was drenched in champagne by her fellow Australian competitors in celebration after finishing the tournament on 13-under 275.

“As soon as that putt went in, I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I’ve won!’,” said the 27-year-old, who lifted her fourth LPGA Tour title.

“You have to take these highs when they come because it doesn’t always come and golf can be a learning sport sometimes.

“Celine played great today but she didn’t end up with the trophy in her hands. But she should still be proud of how she performed under this pressure,” said Green.

It was the Australian’s first win in Asia and also eased the heartbreak of finishing second in Singapore three years ago.

“I almost won the championship in 2021 when I was playing it for the first time,” said Green.

“I remembered I three-putted 17 and then three-putted again on 18 to lose. It feels great to have this trophy in my hands now.”

Playing in the group ahead of Green on the Tanjong course at Sentosa Golf Club, Boutier was unable to make a birdie over her closing holes to put pressure on the Australian and missed a great chance on 17.

“I knew my putt (on 17) was going to be important but it ended up being short-sided. It was frustrating,” said world No. 3 Boutier.

“I gave myself chances. I made some putts and also missed some. But such things happen and I can’t be too mad about my round today.”

Ko Jin-young of South Korea, who was defending her 2022 and 2023 titles, briefly threatened to get into the mix when she drained a monster 90-foot birdie putt at the 11th.

But two bogeys followed and her 1-under 71 saw her finish six shots behind Green on 7-under 281.

Japan’s Ayaka Furue took a two-shot lead into the final round Sunday but had a day to forget, completing a 3-over card of 75 with a scruffy double bogey at the 18th to finish six behind playing partner Green.

World No. 1 Lilia Vu, who started the day five shots back of the lead, withdrew during her final round because of illness.

Record-setting Bol, Holloway shine at world indoors as Doom thwarts Warholm

Updated 03 March 2024

Record-setting Bol, Holloway shine at world indoors as Doom thwarts Warholm

  • Holloway made no mistake in the 60m hurdles, an event in which he has remarkably not lost since he was 16, stretching over 74 races
  • Bol once again stole the show, the two-time world 400m hurdles champion bettering her own world indoor record to 49.17 seconds to win the 400m

GLASGOW: Record-setting Femke Bol proved unstoppable and Grant Holloway extended his 10-year win streak at a high-octane second day of the world indoor championships in Glasgow on Saturday that also featured double British gold.

Bol once again stole the show, the two-time world 400m hurdles champion bettering her own world indoor record to 49.17 seconds to win the 400m, leading from gun to tape in an exceptional display of running.

“It was amazing. It was such a strong race. I knew I had to go out fast,” said the Dutch athlete after sending a warning to potential rivals at this summer’s Paris Olympics.

Norway’s Karsten Warholm, like Bol an elite hurdler seeking a pre-Paris Games workout over the 400m flat, was undone by hard-charging Belgian Alexander Doom.

But the Norwegian, the world record holder, three-time outdoor champion and Olympic gold medallist in the 400m hurdles, was not too upset by the result.

“All in all, it’s an acceptable time, so it’s OK,” he said. “It was a last-minute decision to come here. Of course, I wish I had won today but it was so nice coming out here and performing in front of all that noise.”

Holloway made no mistake in the 60m hurdles, an event in which he has remarkably not lost since he was 16, stretching over 74 races.

He matched his own championship record of 7.29sec for a totally dominant victory.

“The streak is for you guys, I come out here and get to the finish line before everyone else!” said Holloway, the three-time 110m hurdles world champion.

There was a particularly British, and notably Scottish, tang to the evening session, with Molly Caudrey, Josh Kerr and Laura Muir guaranteeing a raucous home welcome at a packed-out Emirates Arena.

Caudrey and Kerr came good, winning the women’s pole vault and men’s 3000m to help set the stage for a thrilling night of track and field.

It climaxed with Saint Lucia’s Julien Alfred reeling in fast-starting Pole Ewa Swoboda for gold in the women’s 60m.

Alfred clocked 6.98sec, two-hundredths ahead of Swoboda, with Italy’s Zaynab Dosso taking bronze (7.05).

“Losing last season at the world championships and coming that close to a medal in both the 100m and the 200m, gave me a boost,” said Alfred.

“I was very hungry coming to the next season.”

There was a shock in the women’s 3000m as American Elle St. Pierre dug deep to outsprint massive Ethiopian favorite Gudaf Tsegay down the home stretch for victory in 8min 20.87sec to shatter, by 13sec, the championship record set by Dutchwoman Elly Van Hulst in Budapest in 1989.

“It was a hard pace from the beginning, I knew it was a very competitive field,” said St. Pierre, who won silver at the last world indoors in Belgrade in 2022 and gave birth to her first child just a year ago.

Tsegay, a global medal winner over multiple distances and 5,000m world record holder, accelerated away with two laps to go, taking Kenya’s Beatrice Chepkoech and St. Pierre with her, not thinking that the latter had the legs to outdo her for gold.

While Muir had to be happy with fifth, world outdoor 1500m champion Kerr timed his run to perfection to win the men’s 3000m in 7:42.98, with American Yared Nuguse taking silver and Ethiopia’s Selemon Barega bronze.

Barega and teammate Getnet Wale took turns to put in surges to split the field, Kerr bided his time and sprang into action as the bell rang for the final lap, outstripping Barega down the far straight before sprinting clear.

“I didn’t want to shortchange anyone,” said Kerr, draped in the Saltire flag. “It was a hard-fought race, up and down like we expected.

“I wanted to make sure I wasn’t emotional out there. Keep a cool head and send it with 400m to go. I win every 50-50 I’m in.”

In the field, Caudery sealed Britain’s second gold of the night when she held off New Zealand’s Eliza McCartney to win the pole vault with a best of 4.80m.

The competition was held up for several minutes after France’s Margot Chevrier tumbled off the mat and had to be stretchered off.

Chevrier said on Instagram later that she had fractured her ankle and would have surgery in Glasgow on Sunday followed by another operation after she returns to France.

“It will take what it takes,” she said. “Paris 2024, I will be there.”

Burkina Faso’s Hugues Fabrice Zango won the men’s triple jump with a best of 17.53m on his fifth attempt ahead of Yasser Mohamma Triki of Algeria (17.35m) and Portugal’s Tiago Pereira (17.08).