Four Saudi soccer clubs are set to play in May their second leg matches in the Asian Champions League in Iran in a series of confrontations that would take place against the backdrop of a charged political climate between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Saudi clubs al-Shabab, al-Ittihad, al-Nassr, and al-Hilal will travel to Iran to play their matches against, respectively, Zobahan, Piroozi, Esteghlal, and Foolad Mobarekeh Sepahan.
Several Saudi officials and sport commentators have urged the Asian soccer body to transfer the matches to a third country. Some Saudi officials went even further as to demand withdrawing from the competition, Al Arabiya reported.
The Saudi Football Federation has sent a letter to the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) expressing security concerns in regard to holding the matches in Iran.
Previous matches between Saudi and Iranian soccer clubs were characterized by tension as political references were often brought up to settle soccer challenges.
The Saudi concerns came following demonstrations outside the Saudi embassy in Tehran against the Gulf Arab state’s role in Bahrain and after Iranian protesters broke windows of the Saudi consulate in Mashhad.
A Saudi minister urged Iran to protect its diplomats in the Islamic republic and said that unspecified measures if it failed to do so.
“We hope that these continuous violations will not lead us to take other positions,” Saudi Deputy Foreign Minister Prince Turki bin Saud al-Kabeer was quoted as saying by the newspaper al-Watan.
(Mustapha Ajbaili of Al Arabiya can be reached at: Mustapha.firstname.lastname@example.org)