The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League 2016 matches involving clubs from Saudi Arabia and IR Iran will be played at neutral venues.
The AFC Competitions Committee decided in Doha in late January that the matches would be moved to neutral grounds if there had not been a return to normal relations between Saudi Arabia and IR Iran by March 15, 2016.
In a letter to both the Saudi Arabia Football Federation (SAFF) and the IR Iran Football Federation (IRIFF), the AFC said: “It is most unfortunate for the AFC to learn that at the time of writing, the Saudi Arabian government has yet to lift the travel restrictions on their nationals, which prohibit travel to IR Iran. This travel ban offers no special dispensation for football teams."
“Furthermore, there has been no significant development in the relationship between the two countries concerned, which was considered the main factor according to the AFC Competitions Committee decision dated January 25, 2016.”
In January, the AFC Competitions Committee agreed to switch the matches between clubs from Saudi Arabia and IR Iran to the later stages of AFC Champions League to allow the AFC to obtain independent evaluations on the political, safety and security situation in both countries by the deadline of March 15, 2016.
The letter added that in order to have an in-depth understanding of the safety and security status of bilateral relations between Saudi Arabia and IR Iran, the AFC took several steps in line with the requests of the AFC Competitions Committee.
- International Centre for Sport Security (ICSS) was engaged to carry out an independent evaluation and security risk assessment on both countries on behalf of the AFC.
- Members of the AFC Competitions Committee have attended and observed the home matches of IR Iran Football Federation (IRIFF) clubs against United Arab Emirates Football Association (UAEFA) clubs on February 23 and 24, 2016.
- AFC Security Officers and AFC Competition Managers were appointed for the home AFC Champions League matches of IRIFF clubs to monitor that all security matters are in place for smooth match operation delivery.
- AFC Match Commissioners appointed for the AFC Champions League matches on February 23 and 24, 2016 where IRIFF clubs played at home against UAEFA clubs were requested to submit additional reports on the security arrangements prepared by IRIFF and the respective host clubs.
- Both Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) and IRIFF were requested to submit by March 9 2016 a comprehensive report from their relevant Government agencies on the current situation of bilateral relations between both countries.
Now both the SAFF and IRIFF have been given until March 25, 2016 to provide comprehensive details of the proposed neutral venues for the remaining games.
- 2016 AFC Champions League AFC Competitions Committee Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League Football International Centre for Sport Security (ICSS) IR Iran Football Federation (IRIFF) Iran Saudi Arabia Saudi Arabia Football Federation (SAFF) United Arab Emirates United Arab Emirates Football Association (UAEFA)