- The AFC had decided to hold Iranian home matches in neutral countries.
- Iranian football clubs described the AFC decision as "politically motivated."
- The match between Esteghlal and Kuwait SC, scheduled for January 21st, had been postponed.
The main Iranian football clubs decided not to participate in the AFC Champions League for 2020, in response to an alleged ban on home matches in the country. The move is ostensibly related to the security atmosphere, and comes following the accidental downing of a Ukrainian airliner by missiles from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps that killed 176 people near the capital, Tehran, local media reported on Saturday.
This came in response to the Iranian Football Association receiving an official letter from the Asian Football Confederation, in which it stated that it had decided to hold AFC Champions League matches hosted by Iranian teams in “neutral” countries. Iranian football clubs described the AFC decision as “politically motivated,” and reiterated that it would not participate in the AFC Champions League until the AFC reverses its decision.
It is noteworthy that Iran has four teams— Persepolis, Esteghlal, Sepahan and Shahr Khodro— currently competing in the AFC Champions League.
Iran is “Safe”
The four Iranian teams signed a letter sent to AFC President Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa on Saturday, insisting that Iran was “safe” enough to host international matches. The letter also emphasized that Iranian teams would not give in to the AFC’s decision, because it was “politically motivated,” and would not host its counterparts in any country other than Iran.
Threat to Withdraw
For his part, the head of the National Olympic Committee in Iran, Reza Salehi Amiri, said in statements Saturday that if the AFC insists on its decision, the Iranian football clubs will withdraw from the AFC Champions League. Salehi Amiri confirmed that “banning Iranian football clubs is part of a project that foreign countries invented to deprive the Iranian people of joy and happiness,” as he put it.
Referring to the Ukrainian plane disaster, Salehi Amiri said “this was a disturbing incident that was officially borne by the Iranian Republic, but it was diverted towards revenge and to punish the Iranian people.” According to Salehi Amiri, the AFC Executive Committee is due to hold a session on Sunday to announce its final decision.
Doha is a Neutral Place
Earlier, news sources reported that the match between Esteghlal and Kuwait SC, scheduled for January 21st, had been postponed due to Kuwaiti officials’ concerns about safety and security in Iran, which they discussed with AFC officials.
The newspaper confirmed that Doha was chosen as a neutral venue for the match in the second preliminary stage of the 2020 AFC Champions League. It is noteworthy that the Iranian Sports Administration, specifically football clubs, is subject to the supervision of the leaders of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
World Cup 2021
The Asian Football Confederation agreed with FIFA to allocate three and a half seats to the Asian continent in the 2021 FIFA Club World Cup in China. The host country gets a spot, and so do the finalists in this year’s AFC Champions League. The two semifinalists will play in a playoff to determine the third spot.
On Sunday, Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa, President of the AFC, chaired the meeting of the Executive Office of the Federation in Hong Kong, where a series of measures were adopted to develop the AFC Asian Cup. The Executive Office agreed that the host countries will receive copies of the tournament in time, in order to prepare for the tournament, so that the host country for the 2027 edition will be chosen as soon as possible.