West News Wire: According to Iraqi football officials, a stampede that occurred at a stadium in Basra, in southern Iraq, before the Arabian Gulf Cup final resulted in at least four fatalities and numerous injuries.
News reporters from Basra that several of the around 80 injured persons were “in critical condition” following the incident on Thursday.
At 7 o’clock, Iraq and Oman will play in the eight-nation football tournament’s championship game (16:00 GMT). The game would start on time, according to the Iraqi Football Federation.
Since early in the morning, thousands of spectators without tickets had gathered outside Basra International Stadium in anticipation of the infrequent home international match.
The turnstiles, according to an Agence France-Presse news agency photographer who was inside the stadium, 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.
Football fan Moumen Adnan described to news reporters 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.
Sources 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.
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.