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Iran threatens to quit AFC Champions League over match ban

Fans of Iranian team Persepolis during the AFC Champions League final second leg match between Persepolis and Kashima Antlers at Azadi Stadium on November 10, 2018 in Tehran, Iran. (Photo by Amin M. Jamali/Getty Images)

The Iranian Football Federation has threatened to withdraw its teams from the Asian Football Confederation Champions League in protest at the introduction of a ban on the country hosting matches in the competition.

The federation said it had received a letter from the AFC saying matches involving Iranian clubs must be held at a neutral venue.

Al Jazeera reported that, following a meeting between the IFF and the four Iranian teams currently playing in the Champions League, federation president Heidar Baharvand said: “The Iranian Football Federation, clubs and officials unanimously oppose it and will definitely stand up to this decision.” Baharvand went on to say that, if the ban was not reversed, the teams would withdraw from the competition. The four teams are: Persepolis, Esteghlal, Sepahan and Shahr Khodro.

In a statement on the club’s website, Persepolis’s chief executive director Mohammad Hassan Ansarifad said there is “no safer space in the Middle East and West Asia than Iran”, and “It is the right of Iranian teams to benefit from the presence of their spectators.”

Al Jazeera said no reason had yet been given for the ban, but it came in the wake of huge tensions and security concerns in Iran and the Middle East following the assassination by the US of Iranian military leader General Qassem Soleimani and the downing of a Ukrainian passenger jet by Iranian forces.

An IFF official said that security guarantees had been provided to the AFC by Iran’s sports ministry.

Al Jazeera reported that the AFC decision could have been reversed at a meeting of the AFC’s executive body yesterday, but no news of a reversal has yet emerged.

The Tehran Times reported that upcoming Iran national team qualifiers for the 2022 Fifa World Cup could be affected if football’s world governing body took the same approach as the AFC. There has been no signal yet that Fifa will do so. Iran has homes games against Hong Kong on March 26, Bahrain on June 4 and Iraq on June 9.