Representatives of four clubs, Persepolis, Esteghlal, Sepahan and Shahr Khodro of Iran, announced they would withdraw from the AFC Champions League 2020 after being banned from organizing home matches by AFC due to security concerns from the country’s tensions with the United States.
According to the Tehran Times, the Iran Football Association (FFIRI) said it had received an announcement from AFC about requiring the country’s clubs to hold home matches under the AFC Champions League in neutral countries. This move caused a stir among the Iranian public when it was launched in the context of escalating political tensions between the country and the US.
The Tehran Times reported that, after an FFIRI meeting with stakeholders on the AFC announcement, four Iranian clubs stressed that they will withdraw from this year’s AFC Champions League if the AFC still insists on defending its decision. In a later statement, FFIRI President Heydar Baharvand said: “We have sent a letter to AFC to inform them (four clubs) will withdraw from the tournament if they want to ban us from organizing matches at home. The four Iranian clubs will oppose the unfair decision of the AFC and the federation will support any decision of the teams”.
FFIRI has previously responded that Iran is ready to ensure the safety of the visitors after the Sports Minister has submitted a security plan to AFC. The head of FFIRI further emphasized: “The majority of Iranians are dissatisfied with the AFC decision and it is an insult to our country. To organize tournaments is our right and we will defend our rights very strongly. We will not accept this situation and our clubs will not change their stance on the decision to withdraw from the tournament, in which the federation and the Iranian Ministry of Sports will support them. Iran is a safe country and our tournament is one of the top Asian leagues. There is no reason to play in a neutral pitch”.
After tensions between the United States and Iran escalated, public opinion also raised concerns about safety for some of the second round matches of the 2022 World Cup in Asia in the Middle East. In particular, the Iran match played at home against Hong Kong in the framework of Group C on March 26.
Then, on June 4, Iran and Iraq received respectively Bahrain and Cambodia. Even many opinions are concerned that the conflict may affect the 2022 World Cup finals hosted by Qatar. Ho Chi Minh City Club is the representative of Vietnamese football in this year’s AFC Champions League and will play the Eastern qualifier with Buriram United (Thailand) on January 21. The winner of this match will meet Shanghai SIPG (China) in the play-off round to compete for the group stage of the AFC Champions League.