Busts of Iranian warlord will be removed before Hilal visit, Sepahan tell AFC: report
RIYADH: Iranian club Sepahan has provided written assurances to Asian football authorities that controversial political statues will be removed from Naqsh-e Jahan stadium ahead of their clash with Al-Hilal next week, according to Arriyadiyah.
The two sides are set to play the first leg of the Round of 16 stage of the AFC Champions League on Thursday.
Saudi sports publication Arriyadiyah reported early on Saturday that the Asian Football Confederation was given a written pledge that statues and other logos will be removed before the game against the Blues, citing an unnamed source.
The team from Isfahan were penalized by the AFC last year after displaying three busts of late Revolutionary Guard warlord Qassem Soleimani in the game set to be played against Saudi club Al-Ittihad on Oct. 2, 2023.
Confederation rules prohibit the presence of political, racist and ethnic phrases and banners in the stands.
Ittihad complained to officials about the political symbols on the side of the pitch. But Sepahan refused to remove the busts and other political slogans around the ground, and the match was abandoned without a ball being kicked.
The confederation soon after awarded Ittihad a 3-0 victory and banned Sepahan from playing at Naqsh-e Jahan stadium for three fixtures, and handed the Yellow Storm a $200,000 fine, according to Iranian media.
Sepahan played their Champions League matches against AGMK and Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya at Azadi Stadium in the Iranian capital Tehran.
Hilal will head to Isfahan on Tuesday and are expected to hold at least one training session at the stadium before the match.
Hilal qualified from the group stages of the competition, winning five of their six games. Sepahan qualified by finishing second in Group C, 5 points behind Ittihad.
Soleimani is revered across Iran for leading the Quds Force of the country’s Revolutionary Guard. He was assassinated in 2020 in Baghdad by the administration of former US President Donald Trump.
He was seen by many Western and Arab nations as a destabilizing figure in the Middle East, responsible for death and destruction from Lebanon to Syria and Iraq to Yemen.