TEHRAN – Iran on Sunday accused Asian soccer’s governing body of bias for a proposed ban on it hosting club matches, after a spate of security incidents including the downing of an airliner.
“It appears that the decision of your Competitions Committee was influenced by foreign media hostile” towards Iran, Sports Minister Masoud Soltanifar told the head of the Asian Football Confederation, according to the ministry’s news agency.
“Iran is a safe and powerful country… We have no problems regarding the security of aviation,” he was quoted as saying in the call with AFC chief Salman Bin Ibrahim al-Khalifa.
The minister said that in addition he would “personally guarantee the security of visiting football teams.”
The row comes as tensions soar between the West and Iran following the killing of top commander Qasem Soleimani in a U.S. air strike in Baghdad on Jan. 3.
Iran retaliated five days later by launching a wave of missiles at U.S. troops stationed in neighboring Iraq.
It had still been on high alert hours later when its armed forces mistakenly shot down a Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737 soon after takeoff from Tehran, killing all 176 people on board.
The four soccer teams representing Iran in the Asian Champions League — Esteghlal, Persepolis, Sepahan and Shahr Khodro — have all threatened to pull out if the ban is confirmed.
But a non-Iranian source close to the issue told AFP the ban “is not an official decision yet.”
“It’s still a recommendation by the Competitions Committee (at the AFC) that needs to be approved by the executive committee,” the source said.
The final decision was expected “in the coming hours,” the source added.