For the first time since 1979, Iraq is hosting a major global event – the 25th Arabian Gulf Cup.
The history of the Arabian Gulf Cup offers a testament to how sanctions on countries tied with political issues can stop its potential participation in global sporting events.
From 1990 to 2003, the Gulf Cup tournament was held six times, none of which included Iraq. The move came as Iraq launched an invasion on Kuwait in 1990, ultimately getting placed under a ban from Gulf Cup games until joining once again in 2003.
Iraq has led a somewhat politically-charged participation in the Gulf Cup. In a dispute that highlighted the deteriorating relations between the two nations, Iraq withdrew from the 2014–2015 tournament in protest of a decision to shift the competition from the southern city of Basra to Saudi Arabia.
The chiefs of football associations unanimously decided at the time to move the competition to Jeddah, citing inadequate infrastructure and FIFA’s ban on Iraq hosting international matches due to security concerns.
Similarly, the 2013 tournament was originally scheduled to be hosted in Iraq, but was changed to Bahrain in a move that triggered fury from the Iraqi cabinet, which went on to pull the nation’s team from the cup.
The Ministry of Youth and Sport at the time criticised the decision as being politically motivated and expressed its disappointment, according to Reuters.
“It has become manifestly clear that the reason for moving the [tournament] from Basra to Jeddah is political and taken under intense pressure from Saudi,” read a statement from the ministry at the time. “Saudi Arabia and others are conspiring behind closed doors against Iraq and the sports [of Iraq].”
The national team and local clubs could have been subject to sanctions from FIFA if Iraq were to boycott the competition at the government’s request, since, according to the biggest sport governing body, it does not favour political meddling in football-related topics.
The hostility between Saudi Arabia and Iraq at the time dated back to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, which sparked the Gulf War, in which Saudi Arabia fought alongside other nations to force Iraq back.
From the moment of the invasion to around the time of decision to transfer the 2014 hosting bid of Gulf Cup to Saudi Arabia in 2013, relations with Kuwait had improved, though some schisms remained.
Brief history lesson: Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait
Despite long-standing border disputes, Iraq and Kuwait grew as close allies during the former’s 1980s war with Iran.
Throughout the eight-year war with Iran, Kuwait provided Iraq with much-needed financial support in the form of loans for military supplies.
But when the Iran-Iraq war ended in 1988, Baghdad required additional financial support because it was economically depleted and heavily indebted. It anticipated Kuwait would waive its debt in exchange for access to its vast oil reserves.
Soon after, Kuwait rejected its request to forgo the loans and Iraq launched its offensive. State condemnations swiftly poured in when the Saddam Hussain-led government annexed Kuwait and pronounced it as Iraq’s 19th province.
The immediate and complete evacuation of Iraqi soldiers from Kuwait was demanded by the United Nations Security Council on 6 August. A economic, financial, and military blockade was also imposed on Baghdad.
Iraq finally accepted all UN resolutions after almost a seven-month occupation, but only after enduring countless military and civilian losses and significant infrastructural damage.
Not so foreign
The banning of countries from major sporting events for political purposes is not an abnormal act, with Russia being one such recent case.
FIFA and UEFA suspended the Russian national team from playing in their international competitions in light of its invasion of Ukraine.
Another such example of political banning goes back to 1972, when Rhodesia was prohibited from competing in the Olympics due to its creation as a ‘whites-only’ state, reports said. The IOC barred them from the Munich Games in 1972 as a result of their racist politics. Before they got a chance to compete once more, the nation was later dissolved and recreated as Zimbabwe.
In 1964, for instance, South Africa was prohibited from competing in the Tokyo Olympics due to the Apartheid regime. It was prohibited for almost 30 years.
Afghanistan was denied entry to the 2000 Sydney Olympics because of its discrimination against women under the Taliban and its ban on all forms of athletic competition.
Such instances, especially major sporting entities’ treatment of Russia in 2022 raised calls from thousands, if not millions, who have been oppressed by numerous world powers over the last years and decades.
Such comparisons include the lack of action against Israel, which has persisted in its occupation of Palestine for more than 70 years.
Trip down Gulf Cup memory lane
It has been almost 53 years since the very first Arabian Gulf Cup kicked off in Bahrain back in 1970.
Hosted in Iraq’s Basra this year’s, the Gulf Cup is one of the most well-known tournaments in the region and has grown significantly over the years.
While Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar were the only four teams to participate in the event when it first started in 1970, the number of teams has since expanded to include eight nations.
The tournament saw an increase in teams to seven in 1976, and as the Gulf Cup developed, Yemen was added in 2003.
In the first four competitions in a row, 1970, 1972, 1974, and 1976, Kuwait was crowned champion.
Iraq won the cup it hosted in 1979, ending Kuwait’s hegemony over the competition. In 1982, the UAE hosted the sixth cup, where Kuwait made their return to take back the title.
The seventh edition of the tournament was held in Oman in 1984 and saw the Iraqis triumphantly make their way to the top.
In 1986, Kuwait won the competition yet again as Bahrain hosted the eighth Cup. The ninth competition was held in Saudi Arabia in 1988, and marked the historic third victory for Iraq.
And now for the first time since 1979, Iraq is hosting its first such major global sporting event – the 25th Arabian Gulf Cup.