x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Cup runneth empty for Iraqi fans stuck at airport in Bahrain

Were the immigration and customs officials at Bahrain airport showing just a little bit of bias last week in their treatment of football fans arriving for the final of the Gulf Cup?

Were the immigration and customs officials at Bahrain airport showing just a little bit of bias last week in their treatment of football fans arriving for the final of the Gulf Cup?

UAE supporters, some of whom arrived courtesy of free plane seats provided by du and Etisalat, reported a generally busy but efficient visa processing system when they arrived in Bahrain.

Most Emiratis got through and off to the match, versus Iraq, pretty quickly. Iraqi fans, on the other hand, faced something of a nightmare, according to Iraqi pals of mine who were getting updates via text in Dubai.

In Baghdad, they had been promised visas on arrival in Bahrain, but when many of them got there they were told there were no visa facilities, and they were kept at the airport until their return flight, some 15 hours later.

Could this discrepancy in treatment be related to the fact that Iraq had beaten Bahrain in the semi-final, shouldering aside the host nation from what they had assumed was their rightful place in the final?

I guess we'll never know. But a round plane trip of six hours, either side of 15 hours at an airport only for your team to lose to the UAE must have been the ultimate in disappointment.

***

There was airport misery of another kind at Kuwait last Thursday, with similar stories of overcrowding, bureaucratic inefficiencies and disappointment, although this time the victims were not football fans, but financial public relations executives.

Many firms from Dubai, representing the cream of the region's spin-doctoring profession, had made the short trip to Kuwait to take part in the "beauty parade" demanded by Zain, the telecoms company that is planning an share flotation on the Iraqi stock market.

Such share deals are regarded as lucrative pieces of the action, but have been few and far between recently, especially in Dubai.

So there was quite a scrum of PR execs ready to make the trip for the chance of some easy pickings with Zain. One poor soul told me: "It was awful at the airport, standing around for ages waiting to clear another obstacle placed in your way by the immigration bureaucracy, but at the same time having to be polite to the competition."

That's the difference between PRs and football fans, I suppose: in football, you don't feel obliged to make small talk with the competition.

***

I had a trip to Dubai Creek last weekend, a place I haven't really been to very much since I first arrived in the emirate more than six years ago.

Back then a trip to Dubai's commercial artery, with an abra ride from Bur Dubai to Deira, was part of the Dubai initiation; now, a pleasant stroll along the creek by Bastakiya with wife and child made for a pleasant Friday afternoon. You can also recreate one of the journeys that helped to make Dubai such a thriving commercial centre.

Writers in the 1970s describe the steady flow of traffic from the HSBC branch in Bur Dubai to the Deira side, which back then had the only decent hotel in the emirate, the Carlton. The deals were hatched at the bank, and completed with a handshake at the hotel. Oh for the simple, good old days.

 

fkane@thenational.ae