Asian Football Federation bans Iranian clubs from hosting season matches

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The Asian Football Federation (AFC) has banned Iranian clubs from hosting this season’s AFC Champions League matches, Iran’s Football Federation (FFIRI) said on Friday.

The AFC decision was initially reported by Saudi Arabian journalist Waleed al-Farraj on Thursday.

“According to informed sources, the AFC will soon issue a decision which will ban Iranian clubs from hosting the AFC Champions League matches for security reasons,” al-Farraj said.

Iranian clubs will have to play the matches they were supposed to host at neutral stadiums, he said.

The FFIRI confirmed in a statement on Friday that it received a letter from the AFC banning Iran from hosting the AFC Champions League matches.

The Iranian statement did not say why the ban was issued.

Commenting on the ban, Iran’s National Olympic Committee President Reza Salehi Amiri referred to Iran’s downing of the Ukrainian passenger plane earlier this month, indicating that the AFC decision may be related to the incident.

“The incident that occurred was unfortunate, and the Islamic Republic officially accepted responsibility, but any further pressure for the incident amounts to taking revenge on the [Iranian] nation,” the semi-official Mehr news agency quoted Amiri as saying on Saturday.

All 176 people aboard the plane were killed when the Ukrainian International Airlines flight was shot down by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) on January 8 shortly after take-off from Tehran en route to the Ukrainian capital Kiev.

Iran has faced a deepening crisis abroad and at home over the plane disaster, with authorities taking several days to announce that the IRGC had “unintentionally” shot the plane down.

Persepolis, Esteghlal, Sepahan and Shahr Khodro are the Iranian teams participating in this season’s AFC Champions League.

The four clubs agreed on Saturday to send a joint letter informing the AFC that they will withdraw from the competition if they are not allowed to host matches in Iran, Mehr reported.

Heads of Iran’s two biggest clubs - Esteghlal and Persepolis - have claimed that Iran is the “safest country in the Middle East.”

“Iran is the safest country in the region, and the Arab countries’ false propaganda will not change that,” Esteghlal’s President Esmail Khalilzadeh was quoted as saying by state media.

“These are political games that the Arab countries have started,” he claimed.

The AFC is yet to release an official statement.

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