Iran clubs to boycott Asian Champions League over hosting row

Iran’s top football clubs Monday threatened to boycott the Asian Champions League unless a reported ban on the Islamic republic hosting international matches is lifted.

REPRESENTATIVE PHOTO: Esteghlal, Persepolis, Sepahan and Shahr Khodro are among the Iranian teams in the AFC Champions League.   -  Getty Images

Four of Iran’s top football clubs Monday threatened to boycott the Asian Champions League unless a reported ban on the Islamic republic hosting international matches is lifted.

Iran’s government has accused the Asian Football Confederation of bias over the measure. The AFC has yet to confirm whether or not a ban is in place.

The row comes after a spate of security incidents in Iran, including the downing of a passenger jet shortly after takeoff from Tehran’s main international airport on January 8.

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Esteghlal, Persepolis, Sepahan and Shahr Khodro are among the Iranian teams in the AFC Champions League.

In a joint statement, the four clubs said they would “only play if the confederation officially announces they can host their competitors inside the Islamic republic“.

The teams’ managers rejected any legal basis for the ban and called for an urgent meeting with top AFC officials, the statement posted on the Iranian Football Federation’s website said.

Tensions have soared between the West and Iran following the killing of top commander Qasem Soleimani in a US drone strike in Baghdad on January 3.

Iran retaliated five days later by launching a wave of missiles at US troops stationed in neighbouring Iraq.

Tehran was still on high alert hours later when its armed forces mistakenly shot down a Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737, killing all 176 people on board.

On Sunday, Iran’s Sports Minister Masoud Soltanifar hit out at the AFC, accusing it of being influenced by “hostile” media and denying the country had any aviation security issues.

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