Sometimes, what is agreed upon in the offices is not accepted by society. And often the football fields They become scenarios where these disagreements are confirmed. At the Naghsh-e Jahan stadium in the Iranian city of Isfahan, all that was needed was a statue of the former Iranian general Qasem Soleimani to show that the normalization of relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia It is not going as smoothly as its authorities presume.
After seven years without diplomatic ties and just a few months of reconciliation, the players of the Saudi team Al Ittihad, the team of former Real Madrid player Karim Benzemahave refused to go out on the pitch this Monday and share it with that bust to face the Iranian Sepahan. For better or worse, geopolitics always affects football.
Qasem Soleimani is seen by Iranians as a hero. A martyr, rather, after being murdered by US forces in 2020. Hence they dressed the lawn with his bust. In charge of the Quds Force, the specialized foreign operations arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corpsthe commander played a central role in directing Iran’s activities throughout the Middle East for several decades.
Postponement due to “unforeseen circumstances”
For the Saudis, he is a key architect of Iranian policy that includes the armamenttraining and leadership armed groups throughout the region, including fighters from the Houthi rebel group in Yemen. Saudi Arabia has been fighting against them since 2015 in the Yemen war. For this reason, the Al Ittihad players did not want to leave the locker room tunnel and run into Soleimani’s face.
After a half-hour delay, the refusal to play the Asian Champions League match has led to its postponement “due to unforeseen circumstances.” Some 60,000 fans They have missed the opportunity to see the Saudi champion and their newly arrived stars from the United Kingdom, N’Golo Kante and Fabinho.
Several videos on social networks show angry Iranian fans. “We don’t want politics in football”, they shouted. “The CFA (Asian Football Confederation) reiterates its commitment to ensuring the safety of players, match officials, spectators and all stakeholders involved,” the CFA said in a statement. “This matter will now be referred to the relevant committees,” they stated.
Ronaldo fever in Iran
Saudi television Al Ekhbariya has shown images of the Saudi team in the airport from Isfahan, reporting that they were returning home. On September 19, the Saudi club Al Nassr Cristiano Ronaldo played a historic match in Tehran as it was the first time that a Saudi club played in Iran since 2016. This incident comes a month after an “innovative” agreement between both regional powers to resume the celebration of round trip soccer matches between clubs after seven years competing at neutral venues due to security concerns. This pact was the last in a series of gestures of rapprochement motivated by the reconciliation announced in March thanks to the mediation of China.
After seven years faced In several conflicts throughout the region, Iran and Saudi Arabia thus reestablished their diplomatic ties and committed to reopening their respective embassies. Despite the efforts of both and other actors to lower the tensions, relations still remain strained. Still, there are many wounds that have not been healed. On the grass, it is difficult to make resentments disappear, covered with a few bills and promises in the offices of the rulers. A new date for the match between Al Ittihad and Sepahan has not yet been set. It remains to be seen if they can reach an agreement.