Saudi’s Al-Ittihad vs. Sepahan FC to be Rescheduled: Iran Minister
Sport should not be used as political leverage, says Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian. He tried to downplay Monday’s incident involving a bust of the slain Revolutionary Guards commander Qasem Soleimani displayed in the stadium where Saudi’s Al-Ittihad was to play against Iran’s Sepahan FC.
The Saudi FC refused to play in protest against the statue, which was placed outside the entrance tunnel at the Naghsh-e Jahan Stadium. Al-Ittihad walked out, leaving 60,000 fans in the stadium who were eagerly awaiting the match.
The incident seemed to have rattled Iran leaders as Iran has just normalized relations with Saudi Arabia. Tehran and Riyadh restored diplomatic relations earlier this year with the help of China. Now, both countries don’t want the statue to drive a wedge into their relations.
Iran’s Foreign Minister said the two teams, Al-Ittihad and Sepahan FC, would reschedule the match. He urged the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) to review the incident on a technical basis. Amirabdollahian highlighted that relations with Saudi Arabia are moving in the right direction.
On the walkout by Al-Ittihad, the chairman of Sepahan, Mohammad Reza Saket said the Saudi team had made “demands that were outside of the norms of sport”. He said the stadium had been inspected and approved by the AFC prior to the match.
In an official statement, Al-Ittihad said the team left because it was told by league organizers that the match would not take place as scheduled.
There was no mention of the Soleimani statue by the Saudi FC and neither by the Saudi Arabian Football Federation.
Without going into the details, the AFC said the match was canceled because of unanticipated and unforeseen circumstances.
Iran and Saudi Unity Through Football
While relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran are still tender, football may just be the right tool to strengthen brotherhood. Sports and politics should not be mixed. And AFC aims to achieve brotherhood in its 47 member associations. It wants to be the world’s leading Confederation as well as having more successful Asian teams on the world stage, and confirming football as the number sport in the continent.
Furthermore, AFC’s tagline “One Asia, One Goal” highlights the core values of unity, professionalism and leadership.