Saudi soccer body won't send Champions League clubs to Iran

AP News
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Posted: Jan 07, 2016 3:51 PM
Saudi soccer body won't send Champions League clubs to Iran

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Saudi Arabia's soccer federation has said its clubs will not play Asian Champions League matches in Iran amid rising diplomatic tension.

The decision at a SAFF executive meeting Thursday comes days after individual clubs refused to travel to Iran for safety reasons when the competition kicks off next month.

Two Saudi clubs are already scheduled to play in Iran and a playoff round could create two more matches there.

Sporting tensions increased days before the countries' national under-23 teams begin the 2016 Olympic qualifying tournament in Qatar.

The Saudis and Iranians could meet in the quarterfinals of the 16-team Asian under-23 championship which will determine which three teams go to the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic ties with Iran on Sunday.

A dispute over Riyadh's execution of an opposition Shiite cleric prompted attacks on Saudi diplomatic posts in Iran.

On Thursday, the Saudi soccer body said it awaits an Asian Football Confederation response to its request to order matches for its clubs in Iran moved to neutral countries.

In Group C, Tractorsazi Tabriz of Iran is set to host Saudi club Al Hilal on Feb. 24. One week later, Zobahan is due to host Al-Nassr in a Group B match.

In preliminary round playoffs, Saudi club Al Ittihad can advance into a group with Sepahan of Iran, and Naft Tehran will be grouped with Al Ahli if it wins.

An AFC spokesman said Thursday it is "monitoring the situation."

The Asian body's president, and FIFA presidential candidate, Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim al Khalifa is a royal family member in Bahrain which has also cut ties with Iran.

Another FIFA candidate, Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan, this week called for soccer not to be affected by the diplomatic dispute.

"That is critical, whatever politics is out there doesn't interfere with our sport in any way," Prince Ali told reporters in London Tuesday.