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Iranian political point scoring mars process of reconciliation with Saudi Arabia
3 October 2023
Football, it is often said, can unite nations in love with the game.
But in Iran, it appears they see things differently.
Saudi Arabia and Iran were at loggerheads for years, but in March, with much fanfare, the Chinese announced they had brokered a deal between the two countries. Diplomatic relations were restored. And from last month, football matches could start being played on their home grounds, instead of in third party venues. But for Iran, political scoring is all important.
A furious row erupted on Monday after an Iranian football club tried to use a match against Saudi opponents for political propaganda.
The AFC Champions League match at the Naghsh-e-Jahan Stadium in Isfahan between Sepahan and Jeddah team Al-Ittihad was called off when the Iranian club refused to remove political banners and busts of the late Revolutionary Guard warlord Qassem Soleimani from the edge of the pitch. Soleimani ran the overseas arm of Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and was a blunt critic of the Saudi government and the kingdom’s ruling Al Saud family. He was killed in a US drone strike in Baghdad in 2020. The Iranians refused to remove the bust. After requesting a delay of half an hour to assess the situation, the Saudi team and staff left the stadium to head to the airport and back to Saudi Arabia.