Tears of joy as Basra puts on memorable Arabian Gulf Cup opening ceremony

Tears of joy as Basra puts on memorable Arabian Gulf Cup opening ceremony
1 / 2
A view of the Basra International Stadium braces to host the Arabian Gulf Cup25, in Basra, Iraq Jan. 3, 2023. (Reuters)
Tears of joy as Basra puts on memorable Arabian Gulf Cup opening ceremony
2 / 2
The Arabian Gulf Cup is hosted in Iraq for the first time since 1979, signaling the country’s return to the global stage. (Supplied)
Short Url
Updated 07 January 2023

Tears of joy as Basra puts on memorable Arabian Gulf Cup opening ceremony

Tears of joy as Basra puts on memorable Arabian Gulf Cup opening ceremony
  • The event was not without its glitches but more than 65,000 fans witnessed a spectacular celebration of Iraq’s history

BASRA: After hours of anticipation, the lights of the majestic Basra International Stadium switched off, stunning the audience into silence. Collectively, they held their breath in suspense for the opening ceremony of the 25th Arabian Gulf Cup in Iraq.

If the tournament being held in Iraq symbolized Iraq’s return to the global stage, then the ceremony certainly left its own indelible mark.

“I was surprised at what I saw,” said Khalid Al-Hiddi, an Omani football analyst for Bein Sports and Kass TV. “We were not expecting this from Iraq,” Al-Hiddi added. “This high level of technology, art and design was so impressive and was able to welcome us into Iraq’s rich culture.”

For more than an hour, viewers from across the world were left dazzled by a laser, fireworks and light show, including pitch-sized projections and live music and dance performances from some of Iraq’s most famous artists. The choreography alone to achieve such a complicated show should be commended.

The ceremony will live in the memory long after the 0-0 draw between Iraq and Oman that followed is forgotten.

On a personal note, I was incredibly moved by the powerful spectacle of seeing Iraq so beautifully celebrated in all its glory. I was immediately taken back to the series of recent mass public events that I have witnessed in Iraq and remembered how each had been for negative occasions — either for commemorating mass deaths from devastating car bombs or protesting about Iraq’s corrupt political elite.

Given the recent grievances, the unapologetic, pure joy this ceremony brought, with Iraq flags proudly waving across the stadium, immediately brought a tear to my eye and many around me.

The ceremony focussed on telling the story of Iraq through the ages, moments every Iraqi continues to be honored by. From the story of Sumerian being the first written language in the world to the creation of Baghdad, historical landmarks reminded the audience of Iraq’s long-standing contribution to world culture. This festival of national pride proved touching to many Iraqis across the globe.

“So emotional watching these videos from the US,” commented one follower on my Instagram stories of the ceremony.

The performances, however, did have some shortcomings.

“At no point was Basra highlighted,” said Sajjad, a disappointed resident of the host city. Not only was Basra not given its moment of glory during the ceremony, but Iraq’s diversity in general lacked representation. Iraq has 10 officially recognized minority groups, including Turkmen, Yazidis and Christians, but the ceremony focussed only on Iraq’s Arab and Muslim identity as references to Islam were peppered throughout the show.

Other failures occurred at the event, which broke the record for the highest attendance at an opening ceremony of any previous Arabian Gulf Cup tournament. It was announced that 65,000 spectators attended the occasion but the real figure is likely to be far higher, as every available space in the stadium was occupied from stairwells to railings. Many without a ticket were able to force themselves through poorly organized gates.

Thousands of fans were shuttled through bottle-neck doors and whether you had a legitimate ticket or not, the only way in was to stand strong and barge your way through the chaos. It was in stark contrast to Qatar’s highly organized spectacle only a few weeks ago, which was safe for children of all ages. Thankfully no injuries from Basra were announced, but the decision to force thousands of fans through a single door could have easily turned sour.

“You don’t understand that for the people of Iraq they have never seen anything like this and probably never will again,” said Ameen Al-Hassani, a 30-year-old software engineer from Baghdad. “They would do anything to make sure they don’t miss the occasion and if that means some pushing, they will be sure to do it.”

Once in, however, it was a different story as the tangible sense of joy could be felt. Small gestures were heart-warming. After setting up the pitch for the ceremony, for example, the ground staff were touched by a standing ovation from the staff. In another example, mid-way through the ceremony, sensing the magnitude of what they were witnessing, the audience in unison burst into chanting, “Global, global. Basra is now global.”

One celebrity missing from the performance was the highly anticipated return of Kadhim Al-Saher to Iraq. The singer has not performed in his home country for decades, opting to sing patriotic Iraqi songs across the world bar Iraq, but this week it was officially announced that he would be making a long-awaited return home.

The ceremony came to a close without Al-Saher’s attendance as fans aired their frustration across social media. The performances of a plethora of high-profile artists, from Hussam Al-Rassam to Rahma Riad, more than filled this gap.

A highlight for many was that FIFA President Gianni Infantino managed to make the journey to Basra and appeared impressed throughout the tournament. The opening ceremony vastly outshone any expectations people had of Iraq, and served as an emotional and proud moment for many Iraqis across the world. Let’s hope we have more of the same to look forward to throughout the tournament.

World watches with bated breath as new Tiger Woods emerges

World watches with bated breath as new Tiger Woods emerges
Updated 29 November 2023

World watches with bated breath as new Tiger Woods emerges

World watches with bated breath as new Tiger Woods emerges
  • The 47-year-old American returns to action at the Hero World Challenge, a tournament hosted by his eponymous foundation

ALBANY: Like waiting for Apple’s latest software update, there is a buzz of anticipation in the golf world. Tiger Woods is about to make yet another comeback.

The 47-year-old American, a 15-time major champion widely considered the greatest player ever to pick up a club, is back in action this week at the Hero World Challenge, a 20-man limited-field tournament hosted by the Tiger Woods Foundation.

Woods is a walking orthopedic textbook. To jot down everything his body has gone through and the number of reasons he has had to go under the scalpel would be a litany of medical conditions. 

But on Tuesday, when he entered the media center for a press conference, it seemed we were seeing a different Tiger Woods. The boxer’s swagger was still there, but there was no sign of any limp in his gait.

A lot has already changed over the past few years. Woods is more approachable, more thoughtful in his replies. He does not brush off controversial questions. He is more actively involved in the future of the sport, instead of passively catalyzing its growth with his individual brilliance.

As his latest comeback begins, the questions swirl. Have all his bugs been fixed? Are there any new features of his swing? Will his swing speed increase? Will his batteries have a longer life?

His performance over 72 holes in the next four days will decide the success of Woods Version 6.0. Nothing can tarnish his impeccable legacy and the world certainly will not end if he fails this week, or even in the foreseeable future. However, it will be a beautiful place if he starts contending again in his trademark Sunday red and black.

The last time he had microdiscectomy surgeries in his spine, Woods managed to put together a swing that alleviated the pressure on his back and made full use of his Popeye-like biceps. This time, it is the subtalar joint in his ankle that has been fused.

Here is what we know after his interaction with the media — Woods is pain-free in the ankle. However, because of the changes he has made, he does feel sore in other parts of his body. And he is as excited as we are to find out how he shapes up with a scorecard in his hand.

“My game feels rusty, I haven’t played in a while. I’m excited to compete and play and I’m just as curious as all of you are to see what happens. I can tell you this, I don’t have any of the pain that I had at Augusta or before that in my ankle. Other parts are taking the brunt of the load so I’m a little sorer in other areas. The surgery was a success,” Woods said.

As for the future, Woods does not see himself playing more than one tournament a month in 2024. It is likely his season will start with the Genesis Invitational at Riviera, in southern California.

During his time away from the game, Woods has been actively involved as a new player director of the PGA Tour board, sorting out the framework agreement with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. He hinted the board was working towards meeting the Dec. 31 deadline, which would see an infusion of funds into the PGA Tour and the creation of a new for-profit company.

“I’m pleased at the process and how it’s evolved and also frustrated in some of the slowness and the governance change that we want to have happen,” said Woods.

“And December 31 is coming up very quickly, so there’s a timetable there that we would like to implement some of these changes that have not taken place. All the player directors have spent so many hours and worked tireless hours to make sure we have the best deal for all the players and the PGA Tour,” he said, adding that the Tour was still talking to other potential investors.

Woods will start the first round of the Hero World Challenge on Thursday at 7:52 p.m. Saudi time, paired with Justin Thomas.

Al-Fayha keep AFC Champions League hopes alive with win over Ahal

Al-Fayha keep AFC Champions League hopes alive with win over Ahal
Updated 29 November 2023

Al-Fayha keep AFC Champions League hopes alive with win over Ahal

Al-Fayha keep AFC Champions League hopes alive with win over Ahal
  • 3-1 victory leaves Saudi club 3rd in Group A with hopes of progress to round of 16 riding on Dec. 5 matches

RIYADH: Al-Fayha breathed life into their AFC Champions League campaign on Tuesday night with a 3-1 win over Ahal FC of Turkmenistan at Prince Faisal bin Fahd Sports City Stadium in Riyadh.

The victory was the Saudi team’s second in Group A and means they go into the sixth and final round of matches with hopes of progress to the round of 16 still alive.

Al-Fayha’s goals came from Anthony Nwakaeme’s penalty in the 19th minute, Fashion Sakala in the sixth added minute of the first half, and Sultan Mandash on 74 minutes. Elman Tagayev had equalized for Ahal from a spot kick in the 25th minute.

Al-Fayha now sit in third place with six points while Ahal remain on four points in last place.

Al-Ain of the UAE top the group with 12 points while Pakhtakor of Uzbekistan are second with seven.

Al-Fayah visit Pakhtakor for their final Group A fixture on Dec. 5.

Team Abu Dhabi primed for 2 UAE powerboat challenges

Team Abu Dhabi primed for 2 UAE powerboat challenges
Updated 29 November 2023

Team Abu Dhabi primed for 2 UAE powerboat challenges

Team Abu Dhabi primed for 2 UAE powerboat challenges
  • As F1H2O season reaches climax in Sharjah, new Class 3 series gets underway in Khor Fakkan

ABU DHABI: Team Abu Dhabi are primed for a big challenge on two powerboat racing stages as one season begins and another reaches its conclusion in the UAE next week.

The experienced pairings of Faleh Al-Mansoori with Shaun Torrente and Rashed Al-Tayer alongside Majed Al-Mansoori are lined up for the opening round of the new UAE Class-3 Offshore Powerboat Championship getting underway in Khor Fakkan on Dec. 7.

Three days later, triple world champion Torrente will join forces with cousins Thani and Rashed Al-Qemzi as Team Abu Dhabi look for a winning climax to the 2023 UIM F1H2O World Championship at the season’s final round in Sharjah.

While Sweden’s Jonas Andersson has already secured this year’s F1H2O individual drivers’ crown, Torrente in particular is highly motivated as he returns to action in the series, which saw him clinch the title on Sharjah’s Khalid Lagoon last year, as well as in 2018 and 2019.

Although Andersson and teammate Kalle Viippo hold an 11-point lead in the team championship, fourth-placed Team Abu Dhabi have not given up hope of adding to the six titles they have amassed in the last seven seasons.

For that to happen, they will need to dominate the Grand Prix of Sharjah podium, and rely on misfortunes for the Swedes, and second-placed Team Sharjah combination of Sami Selio and Ferdinand Zandbergen.

Sharjah has produced many dramatic finishes to the F1H2O World Championship, none more so than 12 months ago when Torrente thought his title ambitions had been destroyed when a crash put him out of the race after just eight laps.

Leading after a flying start, Andersson looked set to retain his world title before technical problems on the 28th lap forced his retirement, giving the championship to Torrente, so the Swede will be taking nothing for granted this time.

Torrente said: “I love the event they put on in Sharjah. I love the ambience, and racing in the city on Khalid Lagoon. Unfortunately, this year I won’t be getting another world title, but we’ll still be trying for the win.”

Team Abu Dhabi’s veteran Emirati driver Thani Al-Qemzi, who finished third in the championship last season for the sixth time in his distinguished career, would like nothing better than a first victory in Sharjah to lift him from his current fifth place in the standings.

Meanwhile, for his cousin Rashed, the Grand Prix of Sharjah offers another chance to shine at the top level after he secured his fourth UIM F2 World Championship title this season with one round to spare.

History made on opening day of Saudi Arabia’s 1st pro tennis event

History made on opening day of Saudi Arabia’s 1st pro tennis event
Updated 29 November 2023

History made on opening day of Saudi Arabia’s 1st pro tennis event

History made on opening day of Saudi Arabia’s 1st pro tennis event
  • Arthur Fils, Flavio Cobolli, Luca Van Assche, Hamad Medjedovic come out on top at start of Next Gen ATP Finals presented by NEOM

JEDDAH: Top seed Arthur Fils became the first ATP Tour winner on Saudi Arabian soil on Tuesday at the Next Gen ATP Finals presented by NEOM.

Flavio Cobolli, Luca Van Assche, and Hamad Medjedovic followed suit with wins in the first day’s play at King Abdullah Sports City.

Fils and Luca Nardi made history in the opening session as the first ATP Tour players to play in Saudi Arabia.

The 19-year-old Fils, the top-ranked player in the finals, prevailed 2-4, 4-3(6), 4-2, 1-4, 4-2 in a stern five-set test to make a winning start in the Green Group.

After the match, Fils said: “It was a tough match. The first time in my life I’m playing first to four games. Things can change very quickly. I was leading two sets to one, had break points, and I was feeling very good. Then I lost a deuce point, and everything changed, but I’m really happy to win today.”

On Wednesday the Frenchman will face the other winner in the Green Group, Cobolli. The Italian stunned 2022 semi-finalist Dominic Stricker for a winning start on his debut at the Next Gen ATP Finals in four sets; 4-2, 3-4(7), 4-1, 4-2.

Switzerland’s Stricker is the only player at this year’s event to have competed at the innovative tournament before and has previous experience playing in Saudi Arabia at last year’s Diriyah Tennis Cup.

But Cobolli was not fazed, starting fast as he adjusted to the newly implemented no warm-up rule, part of a range of innovations being incorporated.

Cobolli said: “I warmed up for a lot of time today, so I was really hot on the court. I started the match really well. The courts are so fast, but I was faster (than Stricker). I played a really good match and I’m really happy.”

Van Assche joined fellow Frenchman Fils as a first-day winner in a physical four-set win over Jordan’s Abdullah Shelbayh. After splitting the first two sets that were filled with punishing, extended baseline exchanges, the tournament’s second seed broke clear of Shelbayh in the third and ultimately closed out the match 4-3, 3-4(5), 4-1, 4-1.

Shelbayh thrilled enthusiastic local Jeddah fans with his creative angles, net approaches, and regular drop shots but Van Assche’s slight edge in the backcourt was telling.

Van Assche said: “It was a tough match today against a very tough opponent. I know Abdullah very well, he’s an amazing player. He was almost at home with the crowd cheering for him. It was a good match for me and really tough from the beginning to the end.”

The final match of the day saw Serbian Medjedovic win a five-set thriller — 4-2, 4-3(3), 3-4(3), 3-4(5), 4-3(4) — against the American Alex Michelsen.

‘Petty’ sibling rivalry fires up rising star Lee at Australian Open

‘Petty’ sibling rivalry fires up rising star Lee at Australian Open
Updated 29 November 2023

‘Petty’ sibling rivalry fires up rising star Lee at Australian Open

‘Petty’ sibling rivalry fires up rising star Lee at Australian Open
  • Min Woo is enjoying the best year of his career, and has broken into the top 40 in the world for the first time
  • The Perth-born siblings will both be in action at the Australian Open because the men’s and women’s events take place at the same courses at the same time

SYDNEY: Australia’s newest golf star Min Woo Lee says that his rivalry with better-known sister Minjee Lee will fire him up as he chases a fourth DP World Tour title this week in Sydney.

The Perth-born siblings will both be in action at the Australian Open because the men’s and women’s events take place at the same courses at the same time.

The 25-year-old Min Woo has long been in his sister’s shadow, with the 27-year-old Minjee winning two majors and consistently one of the best players in women’s golf.

But the colorful Min Woo is enjoying the best year of his career and has broken into the top 40 in the world for the first time.

He won in Macau last month on the Asian Tour and carried that red-hot form into last week’s Australian PGA Championship, where he triumphed by three strokes for a third title on the DP World Tour, formerly the European Tour.

He finished tied fifth at the US Open in June and has earned playing rights for the PGA Tour in 2024.

Speaking ahead of the Australian Open, which is co-sanctioned by the DP World Tour, Min Woo told reporters in Sydney that it was a mostly healthy rivalry with his older sister.

“I get a little pissed off when she wins the week after because I got the light on me for a little bit and then four days later or like a week later, she’s holding a trophy,” he said.

“We’re happy for each other. We want to only do well and inspire kids and keep playing good golf.

“So it’s not that bad of a sibling rivalry, but a little petty — from me usually.”

Min Woo’s win in Brisbane last week was also notable for his colorful celebrations, when he put on a chef’s hat at the 17th hole — before victory was sealed — at Royal Queensland Golf Club.

A beaming Min Woo, who appears to relish being in the limelight, also led the crowd in a “thunderclap.”

“I still have to ask my caddie where he got the chef hat on 17,” he said this week.

Like her brother, world No. 5 Minjee is also chasing a maiden victory at the Australian Open, where there is an equal split between men and women for prize money.

Their busy schedules mean that the siblings do not get much proper time to catch up.

But Minjee has watched her brother’s recent success with pride from afar — even if she’s loth to admit it. Typical siblings.

“I’d never say it to his face, but he plays really well and I’m always really proud of him,” she said after winning on the LPGA Tour on the same day that he secured his PGA Tour card for 2024.

“Over the past year he’s been playing great,” she added in Sydney this week.

The mixed Australian Open will take place at the Jack Nicklaus-designed Australian Golf Club across four days.

The nearby Lakes Golf Club is co-hosting for the first two days.