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Iran football body slams AFC ban on hosting

The Iranian Football Federation (IFF) has said it would stand up to the “illegal” decision by the Asian Football Confederation to ban the country from hosting any international matches on Iranian soil.

Federation chief Heidar Baharvand said the federation and managers of the four teams playing in the AFC Champions League held an extraordinary meeting on Saturday and decided unanimously to reject the decision.

“The Iranian Football Federation, clubs and officials unanimously oppose it and will definitely stand up to this decision,” said Bahrvand.

Baharvand told state television that if the ban was not reversed, all teams would withdraw from the AFC Champions League. Iran has four teams – Persepolis, Esteghlal, Sepahan and Shahr Khodro – in the league.

The federation on Friday said it had received a letter from the AFC saying all matches involving Iranian clubs would be held at a neutral venue.

The Iranians did not say if any reason was given or if the decision was related to the accidental downing of a Ukrainian jetliner last week and the tension between the United States and Iran in the wake of the assassination of General Qassem Soleimani.

Iran is reeling under a “maximum pressure” campaign by the US after President Donald Trump pulled his country out of a landmark nuclear deal in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Tehran.

AFC to meet on Sunday
A federation official on Friday said Iran’s sports ministry had provided the required security guarantees to the AFC and pointed out that the country hosted the final of the 2018 edition at Tehran’s Azadi Stadium.

The AFC’s position is still reversible as the body’s executive committee is scheduled to hold a session on Sunday to make a final decision.

“We must host matches, because this is our people’s right. We should not deprive our spectators from hosting games. This is our absolute right and we insist on it,” Bahrvand said.

IFF spokesman Amir Mahdi Alavi was quoted by the semi-official Mehr news agency as saying Iran is “fully ready to host various teams as it has repeatedly proven during the past several years”.

Meanwhile, Persepolis club’s chief executive director Mohammad Hassan Ansarifard said there is “no safer space in the Middle East and West Asia than Iran”.

“It is the right of Iranian teams to benefit from the presence of their spectators,” he said, according to the club’s website.

Iran’s men’s football team has participated in 14 editions of the AFC Asian Cup, winning three titles since the country’s first appearance in 1968.

The AFC ban has angered fans in Iran, where football is the most popular sport. Social media posts with the hashtag #ACLneedIranFans trended on Twitter.

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