Iran may withdraw its teams from Asia's biggest club tournament if they are blocked from hosting matches against Saudi Arabian clubs due to the breakdown in relations between the regional rivals, an official with Iranian soccer champions Sepahan said. Four Saudi clubs complained to the Asian Football Confederation last month that it was unsafe for them to play AFC Champions League matches in Iran. The AFC is considering having the matches played on neutral territory.
"I hope there will be a resolution, but we are considering to withdraw from the Champions League if they insist on a third place (neutral venue)," Sepahan team manager Rassol Khorvash told Reuters on Monday. Saudi Arabia cut all ties with Iran last month after its embassy in Tehran was attacked following Saudi's execution of a prominent Shi'ite cleric. The AFC said last month that if "normal relations" had not resumed by March 15, fixtures between the two countries' clubs would be played at neutral venues.
"We are waiting to see what the AFC decides," Khorvash told Reuters. "All the managers of the clubs had a meeting and this was one of the ideas discussed."
Khorvash said the three Iranian clubs in this year's ACL - Sepahan, Tractor Sazi and Isfahan-based Zob Ahan - had also spoken with the Iranian Football Federation and the Foreign Ministry about the matter. The AFC last month pushed back six group-stage Saudi-Iran fixtures to allow more time for independent evaluations on safety and security issues between Saudi Arabia and Iran. But it dismissed a motion from the United Arab Emirates Football Association to move Emirati club fixtures out of Iran, and Khorvash said the Saudi complaint should also be rejected.
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Research Associate at Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA) at Istanbul Sabahattin Zaim University