YEMEN: Soccer tournament boosts tourism in country plagued by Al Qaeda
At a time when the poorest Arab nation is torn by internal conflicts and escalating threats from Al Qaeda, soccer's Gulf Cup is calming Yemen's spirit and easing its financial woes.
The Yemeni minister of tourism said this week that the tournament, taking place between Nov.22 and Dec.5, has drawn about 20,000 fans from neighboring countries in the Arab peninsula to watch games in the cities of Aden and Abin.
"Revenues from hosting the Gulf Cup have so far exceeded the $600-million margin. We consider this tournament to become the future gate of Yemeni tourism," said the minister, Nabil Al Faqih.
With violence from separatist Houthis on Yemen's borders with Saudi Arabia, the presence of hard-line Islamists in towns such as Abin, and the growing influence of Al Qaeda militias, Yemen did not seem to be a haven for holding sporting events.
Surrounded by much uncertainty and security threats, Yemen's organization of the tournament was jeopardized after a number of participating countries called for postponing the Gulf Cup until the Yemeni government proved its ability to secure the event.
The head of the Bahraini Olympic Committee previously stated that carrying out the competition in Yemen is a "compliment that might well harm the event's reputation."
The Yemeni government has deployed 30,000 soldiers at Aden's ports, stadiums and team hotels. "We have not encountered any security problems so far. We have been using explosives-detection dogs in stadiums and hotels, and we survey the halls before every press conference," said Abdullah Al Afif, head of the bomb squad at the tournament's press center.
Yemen's organization has so far been praised by analysts and participants, including the head of the Kuwaiti soccer association, who called the tournament a success. One of the main features of this year's Gulf Cup has been the large turnout of female fans, a scene that is rarely witnessed at any of the Persian Gulf countries' soccer fields.
Revenues from hosting the Gulf Cup will be crucial in uplifting the economy in Yemen, where the annual national income per capita is $950; unemployment figures reach 35%, and 45% of the population lives below the poverty line.
Also known as Khaleeji, the Gulf Cup is held every two years with the participation of all Gulf Cooperation Council members. Despite not having any borders with the Persian Gulf, Yemen was added to the competition in 2003.
-- Amro Hassan in Cairo
Photo: Female fans from the United Arab Emirates cheer for their team at the Gulf Cup. Credit: Agence France-Presse