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Tehran Accuses Saudis Of Being Behind Asian Ban On Soccer Matches In Iran

Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi. FILE PHOTO

Iran’s deputy foreign minister has called the decision of the Asian Football Federation (AFC) to ban championship matches in Iran a “cowardly decision”, alleging that Saudi Arabia is behind the move.

Abbas Araqchi accused Riyadh of taking political advantage of the downing of a Ukrainian airliner by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard January 8, to force a decision by AFC. Iran says the plane was shot down by mistake.

Iranian media reported January 18 that AFC sent a letter to Iranian officials banning international championship soccer games in Iran and saying those matches should be played in third countries. Apparently, the Asian Football Confederation concern is safety of members of teams in the wake of the airliner disaster.

Iran's deputy foreign minister did not cite any evidence for his accusation made against Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile a Saudi publication has reported that AFC has reaffirmed its preliminary decision in a meeting on Sunday and has cited the refusal of referees to travel to Iran as one factor in its decision.

A day earlier, Iran threatened that if the decision becomes final its four teams participating in the Asian championship will pull out.

The first game is scheduled between Iran’s Esteqlal and Kuwait’s Al-Kuwait teams for January 21 and Arab media report the Kuwaiti team has requested the match to be played in Qatar.