Iranians plead FIFA not let Saudi Arabia violate home-and-away format

December 5, 2017

Some Iranian fans have written an open letter to FIFA President Gianni Infantino to prevent Saudi Arabia and the UAE governments from intervening in the football affairs.

“We are writing on behalf of 60-million passionate and ardent fans of Persepolis, Esteghlal and Tractor Sazi football clubs in Iran to plead with you to intervene in the current affairs of one of your member Confederations, The Asian Football Confederation.

We are writing directly to the office of the FIFA President as we fear The Asian Football Confederation may yet again fail to deal with the interference of political authorities in the affairs of the Football Federations of Saudi Arabia and now The United Arab Emirates.

The refusal of Saudi clubs to play Iranian clubs in the last two Asian Champions League seasons have not only deprived Iranian and Saudi fans, but also Asian football fans of witnessing this great rivalry before crowds of 100,000 at Tehran’s Azadi Stadium and 60,000 plus at venues across the Saudi Arabia. 

The recent events in our region and what seems to us an unjust blockade of the State of Qatar have dragged clubs from the United Arab Emirates and Qatar to this issue. With Oman the only plausible ‘neutral’ host, it will be impractical to proceed with the 2018 AFC Champions League groups stage match schedule. But this issue will have a devastating impact on West Asian football at large and not just next season’s Asian Champions League that has come to fore as a result of the upcoming draw during the week of Monday, 4th December.
The United States severed its diplomatic ties with Iran in 1980, but both countries have continued a cordial sporting relationship throughout the past 37 years. You do remember the encounter between the two national teams in Lyon on 21st June 1998 when members of both teams posed in a joint team photo. FIFA recognized that sporting gesture and awarded both federations with its 1998 Fair Play Trophy.

The Iranian national team followed that up with a tour of The United States in January 2000 when they played three games in Southern California, culminated with a ‘friendly’ against the United States National Team. 
There was a clear indication that both sides were trying a rapprochement. The clearest example of how football can have a positive impact on society at large. 

Shortly after President Trump’s Moslem ban in February 2017, Iranian fans warmly welcomed the United States Wrestling National team, with whom we have great rivalry, to Iran. The entire American wrestling delegation and even their families (from afar) acknowledged the hand of friendship extended to them through sports.

It is at these times of political and social uncertainty that we need Sports to step forward to bridge the gap and bring people together in the hope that governments too would reconsider their animosity towards one another.

While the AFC seem determined to revive the home-and-away format of the Asian Champions League from the 2018 season, we have read statements made by Saudi and Emirati football officials with great concern that they would not allow their clubs to travel to Iran and Qatar.
We as fans have not heard whether the Asian Football Confederation disciplinary committee plans to deal with these clear violations of international football norms. 

We, members of Iran’s biggest football fan clubs and ardent supporters of our National Team, are ready to welcome Saudi, Emirati and Qatari clubs and their fans to Tehran’s Azadi and Tabriz’s Yadegar-Emam stadia with open arms. We hope to turn this in to a brotherly football rivalry that it should be.

Due to security concerns, FIFA ordered Iraq not to play their World Cup qualifying matches at home. Iraq chose Iran as their ‘home’ venue for their ‘Road to Russia’ campaign. 
Both Iran and Qatar have shown time and again that they are safe venues for any sporting competition at any level, however big or small.

As FIFA President you should also feel a sense of responsibility towards football fans around the world, especially regions where football has an incredible power to heal old wounds.
In addition, while these Asian Football competitions seem a matter of concern for the Asian Football Confederation, the fact is clear that all these competitions will eventually lead to FIFA’s own tournaments. AFC U-16 and U-19 boys and girls tournaments are essentially qualifiers for their respective FIFA World Cup age group. AFC Champions League also acts as a qualifying competition for the FIFA Club World Cup. The same applies to the AFC Asian Cup whose champion will participate in the FIFA Confederations Cup.

These Asian tournaments are all part of the football pyramid. The pyramid summit will collapse if individual parts of its base are not in place.

The football officials in Saudi Arabia and The United Arab Emirates have openly stated that their football teams (of any level) would not be permitted to travel to Iran and Qatar. 

We would like to remind you of FIFA Statute Article 3 that states: 
“Discrimination of any kind against a Country, private person or group of people on account of race, skin color, ethnic, national or social origin, gender, language, religion, political opinion or any other opinion, wealth, birth or any other status, sexual orientation or any other reason is strictly prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion.”

The stand taken and statements made publicly by the Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates football officials, who are directed by their politicians and governments, are in clear violation of FIFA’s Article 3 on several accounts.  In addition, their stand is a clear violation of the independence of national governing bodies of football in Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E.
President Infantino, You have repeatedly stated and acknowledged the importance of fans in the development of football around the world. You have been true to your words by inviting fans from all corners of the world to Home of FIFA to listen to their opinion. We salute you for all these efforts. We cannot stress the constructive role of football in our region and hope your intervention can bring reason to decisions made by political authorities of the Middle Eastern countries.

We have been in support of your repeatedly stated goal of “Let’s Bring FOOTBALL back to FIFA.” 

That action of yours will be the most comprehensive response you will provide us with and for which we will be eternally grateful.”