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Iranian Soccer Clubs Defy Asian Football Confederation

Iranian football fans supporting Esteqlal soccer team, in Tehran, on March 12, 2019. FILE photo

Iranian football (soccer) clubs have decided not to participate in the 2020 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League, local news outlets reported on Saturday, January 18.

A day earlier, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC)-run Tasnim news agency had reported, "The Islamic Republic Football Federation (IFF) has received an official letter from the AFC that said it had decided to hold the future Asian Soccer Champion League hosted by Iran in 'neutral' countries."

Describing the AFC decision as "politically motivated," Iranian soccer clubs reiterated that they would not participate in the Asian Champions League until the AFC took back its decision.

Four Iranian soccer clubs, Tehran's Esteqlal (Esteghlal) and Perspolis, Isfahan's Sepahan, and Mashhad's Shahr Khodro are currently competing in the Asian League.

The reason behind the AFC decision to ban Iran from hosting soccer matches is not yet known, but it appears it is linked to the recent downing of a Ukraine Airlines passenger plane that killed all 176 onboard near the capital city, Tehran.

Responding to the decision, the four Iranian teams signed and sent a letter to the AFC President Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa on Saturday, insisting that Iran is "safe" enough to host international matches.

The letter has also asserted that the Iranian teams will not give in to AFC's "politically motivated" decision and will not host their counterparts in any country other than Iran.

Our decision is aimed at preserving Iran's dignity, defend Iran's security, and prevent interference of politics in sports; an informed source cited the letter as saying.

The President of the National Olympic Committee of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Reza Salehi Amiri, also said on Saturday, should the AFC insist on its decision, Iranian soccer clubs would stay away from the Asian Champion League.

"Banning Iranian soccer clubs is a part of a 'project devised by the global arrogance' to deprive the Iranian people of joy and happiness, Salehi Amiri maintained.

Global arrogance is a term used by the Islamic Republic authorities to describe the United States.

Referring to the Ukraine Airlines passenger plane recently downed by the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps' anti-air missile(s), Salehi Amiri affirmed, "This was an unpleasant incident that the Islamic Republic officially took responsibility for it, but to drag it on somehow amounts to vengeance, and punishing the Iranian nation."

According to Salehi Amiri, the AFC's Executive Committee is set to hold a session on Sunday to announce its final decision."

Meanwhile, he threatened without elaboration that whoever is responsible for the decision would be accountable for its consequences.

Earlier, Kuwaiti daily newspaper, Al-Anba, had reported that the matches between Esteqlal and Kuwait SC, scheduled for January 21, had been postponed due to Kuwaiti officials' concerns over security and safety in Iran, which they have discussed with the AFC officials.

The daily also claimed that Qatar's capital city, Doha, had already been chosen as a neutral venue for holding the match for the 2020 AFC Champions League Preliminary Stage Two.

Tehran's Perspolis and Sepahan have already secured their place in the group stage of the 2020 Asian Championship League (ACL) while Esteqlal and Shahr Khodro have to play in the Preliminary Stage to advance to the group competitions.

Iranian sports, specifically soccer clubs, are mainly managed and supervised by the commanders of the IRGC.