Football gets boycotted amidst Saudi-Iran conflicts
Disputes between Saudi Arabia and Iran took a turn for the worse following the Saudi execution of Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr along with 46 others. With the two countries already stuck in an array of conflicts, this incident made the situation worse for football fans in the Middle East. With Saudi Arabia banning all diplomatic and commercial relations with Iran, the tit-for-tat war reached a new low today with Saudi Arabia vowing to boycott football activities as well.
The Saudi football association has said that they would not participate in international football matches in Iran. Citing security concerns, an official seeking anonymity, said Saudi Arabia would, however, hold their matches against Iran in other Gulf States.
Saudi football clubs Al-Ahil FC, Al-Hilal FC, Al-Ittiyad FC and Al-Nasr FC issued statements demanding that they be allowed to play Asian championship matches against Iranian clubs, scheduled for February.
The clubs were expected to ask the Saudi Arabian Football Federation to officially request the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) to move the games away from Iran.
Saudi Arabia cut ties with Iran on Sunday after an Iranian mob attacked two of its diplomatic posts in the country.
Iran, in quick retort to the execution of the cleric banned the import of goods from Saudi Arabia.
Asghar Bagherian, an Iranian football official, said FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation rules are clear that politics has no place in football. He said that the first international match to be affected by this conflict would be in the Asian Champions League, scheduled for January and February. The official called the Saudi decision illogical and illegitimate, adding that his country would reject Saudi’s offer to hold matches in neutral venues.
Prince Faisal Bin Turki Bin Nasser, a son-in-law of the late Saudi Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud presides over Al-Nasr while Al-Hilal is managed by Prince Nawaf Bin Sa'ad. The presidents of Al-Ittihad and Al-Ahli have close ties to the ruling family.
Mehndi Taj, head of Iran’s Premier League threatened to file a complaint with the AFC on the grounds that Saudi was mixing sports with politics.
Citing from the rulebook he said, “Articles 3 and 4 of AFC assert that political issues should not be extended to football; this is not for the first time that Saudis take pretexts of this sort on their unethical pursuit. The best response is to play strong football on the field and to defeat Saudis on their own ground,” adding that the Iranian team was willing to play matches in the kingdom.