Football mirrors politics as Saudi-Iran FA dispute kicks off

Football mirrors politics as Saudi-Iran FA dispute kicks off
Reflecting the Middle East's often-complex diplomatic wranglings, the football associations of Saudi Arabia and Iran have clashed over the choice of neighbouring country in which they will settle their scores.
2 min read
02 Apr, 2016
The games between Saudi and Iranian clubs are set to begin on April 19 [AFP]
Riyadh and Tehran have taken their tensions to the football pitch - or have perhaps been delayed from doing so - after Iran's refusal to play against Saudi clubs in Oman as "neutral" ground on Saturday.

Football teams from the giant geopolitical rivals are scheduled to meet as part of the Asian Football Confederation's Champions' League tournament, but weeks of disagreement about venues have left the fixtures mired in uncertainty.

The dispute arose when the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) took its demand of "neutral" venues to the AFC through a letter and a mass media campaign.

Shots miss target

After requests for the two countries to submit their preferred venues, it was then agreed that the Saudi teams would host their matches in Qatar and the UAE, while the IR Iran Football Federation (IRIFF) would host its games in Oman.

A sudden turnaround from the IRIFF, however, seems to contradict a report issued by the AFC just days earlier.

"After assessing the proposals submitted by both Member Associations, the AFC approved the IRIFF's proposal to play their home matches in Oman and the SAFF's proposal to move their matches to Qatar and the UAE," read a statement published on March 31 by the AFC.

Goal lines

Meanwhile, Yahya Golmohammadi, the coach of Iran's Zob Ahan football club, suggested that his team could face Saudi Arabia's Al-Nassr in Afghanistan, Tajikistan or Lebanon. And if the AFC were to reject that idea, funds could perhaps be provided for the rivals to play as far afield as Australia.

If the Middle East's politics are anything to go by, the spreading of Saudi-Iranian disputes to the region's smaller nations is nothing new. 

That said, perhaps let's hope - for Australia's sake, at least - that the politics stays off the pitch.