BASRA, Iraq: At least one person has died and scores more injured in a stampede at Iraq’s Basra stadium on Thursday.
Authorities closed the gates to the stadium and an alternative venue was opened after the incident left at least one dead and 60 injured Thursday ahead of the Arabian Gulf Cup final, medical and security sources said.
Later the Arabic news channel Al Arabiya reported that the Iraq Football Association had decided to let the match go ahead as planned, despite the earlier incident.
Iraq’s news agency said Al-Mina stadium was open to accommodate the large crowd of fans after Basra’s stadium was closed at full capacity. Dozens of screens were installed in public squares across Basra to broadcast the final between Iraq and Oman.
Long banned from hosting international football matches, war-torn Iraq had been counting on its hosting of the Gulf Cup to burnish its image but it had already been forced to apologize for organizational lapses.
Thousands of fans without tickets had gathered outside the stadium in Iraq’s main southern city of Basra since dawn in the hope of watching the final, which was due to kick off at 7:00 p.m. (1600 GMT).
“There has been one death and dozens of slight injuries,” a medic said.
An interior ministry official gave the same toll. “A large number of fans, many of them without tickets, had gathered since first light to try to get in,” the official said.
Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani had earlier chaired a meeting with key ministers and the governor of Basra to discuss “special measures for the Gulf Cup final,” his office said.
The Iraqi leader headed to Basra to oversee the situation on the ground, it added.
An AFP photographer 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.
Images posted on social media showed a sea of people outside the stadium.
The army called on fans to heed the instructions of security force personnel on access to the stadium to allow the championship to be “wrapped up in a civilized fashion that does honor to Iraq.”
Football is by far Iraq’s biggest spectator sport and the rare opportunity to see home international games has drawn thousands of fans.
The tournament has also attracted thousands of foreign fans who crossed from neighboring Kuwait to see the games in Basra, little more than 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the border.