The Asian Cup football (soccer) tournament kicks off in Doha, Qatar, Friday, January 7, with defending champion Iraq to play North Korea, Iran and the United Arab Emiterates in Group-D play.
Iraqi football fans are also looking forward to 2013, when the new Basra Sports City will host the Gulf Cup tournament. The first phase of construction of the multi-million sports complex is about half finished.
A cloud of fine dust rises around the construction site as workers put cement pylons and stadium seats in place. Heavy trucks rumble across the site and a crop of huge steel cranes lifts the pieces of the new 65,000 seat stadium that is the centerpiece of the sports complex in Basra.
Basra Sports City also will feature an adjoining 10,000 seat secondary stadium and practice facility designed to International Football Federation and Olympic athletics standards. The facility will also have four training areas, athlete housing, a fire station and a helipad.
The project is a joint venture between Iraq’s Abdullah al-Jubouri construction company and two U.S. firms – 360 Architecture and Newport Global.
Aswan Shabib, a spokesman for the project, says "the overall cost of the project is 522 billion Iraqi dinars, which is the equivalent of $450 million."
Shabib adds that it will take 32 months to complete the construction, "At this stage Abdullah Awis al Jubouri Company, which is the company implementing this project, has achieved more than 50 percent of the first phase of the project.”
Nearly 40 companies from Britain, China, France, Kuwait, Russia, and Turkey bid for the right to build the Basra Sports City, which will sprawl over 236 hectares.
In addition to the sports stadiums, there will be training facilities for Iraqi athletes - including a full natatorium, a velodrome, and three smaller arenas for gymnastics, fencing and other indoor sports. A mosque, an amusement park and additional parking facilities will be built in phase two of the project.
Michael Day is the project manager overseeing the construction of Basra Sports City for 360 Architecture. He told VOA that construction is going well and the complex should be ready in time for a crucial inspection next year.
“They have made significant progress on the main structure of the stadium, which is from a schedule standpoint," says Day. "The critical path is for substantial completion in 2012 when FIFA [football's international governing body] will commission the facility for the 2013 Gulf Cup games.”
The Basra sports complex will not be just sports fans. Last week the local Basra administration agreed to fund several service and urban projects including construction of three bridges in the city and the rebuilding of five intersections to serve the sports facility.Roads from the airport and other routes leading to the facility will also be rehabilitated.
When completed, Basra Sports City will be the largest complex of its kind Iraq has ever built.
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