Tehran, Iran – Three major Iranian teams have been banned from participating in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League and local authorities are already at fault.
The AFC announced on Friday that 2020 finalist Persepolis, two-time Asian champion Esteghlal, and Gol Gohar Sirjan will not be eligible for the 2022 tournament.
The body did not list the exact reasons, but cited licensing regulations that the clubs did not comply with, which include issues such as timely submission of required documents.
State-run Esteghlal and Persepolis, Iran’s two largest and most popular clubs, have faced the possibility of disqualification for weeks, but local officials have also not clarified the exact reasons.
But after the announcement Friday, there was a heated debate on state television while authorities tried to shift the blame.
Majid Sadri, interim chief executive of Persepolis, told the late-night program that 98 percent of the club’s documents were AFC approved, something that made him wonder why he was disqualified.
On outstanding issues such as club ownership and remaining debt to former Argentine manager Gabriel Calderon, he has postponed responsibility to the club’s former chiefs and the administration of former president Hassan Rouhani.
The Rouhani government promised more than three years ago to privatize the clubs and offer their shares in the capital market, a promise that has not yet come close to reality, even under President Ibrahim Raisi.
“And we also have a problem with our AFC friends,” Sadri said Friday. “They ask why we do not pay our debts. We sent them more than 40 letters saying that we have $ 3.4 million with them, we will pay our debt as soon as you release the money. “
According to the official, the AFC refuses to release the Iranian money due to unilateral US sanctions, which were introduced in 2018 when Donald Trump Iran’s nuclear deal abandoned with world powers.
Dariush Mostafavi, a qualifying officer at the Iranian football federation, said in Friday’s debate that the federation bears no responsibility in the debacle.
Meanwhile, lawmaker Ahmad Rastineh said parliament would conduct a review to determine responsibility, but linked the issue to “political corruption and infiltration”.
“Unfortunately, there are some local individuals whose survival depends on concessions to the overly demanding global political currents and these people bring heavy costs to Iranian sport,” he said without elaborating further.
The three clubs have 10 days to appeal against their disqualification, but experts say the decision is unlikely to be overturned.
Esteghlal and Persepolis will therefore be replaced by Sepahan Isfahan and Foolad Khuzestan. Gol Gohar himself was considered as a substitute when he was disqualified.
The disqualifications could have consequences for Iranian football. In addition to the credibility damage, the football federation and the clubs could face penalties.
On the other hand, Iran could continue to suffer serious consequences from FIFA, the governing body of football, over refusal to allow women in stadiums.
The long-running issue could come to a boil later this month, when Iran hosts Iraq in a World Cup qualifier. The country is also scheduled to host the United Arab Emirates and South Korea in two more matches in February and March.
Friday’s disqualifications upset the clubs’ millions of fans and their players. Social media was filled with posts lamenting the ban and criticizing officials.
“I’m scared to speak again and get in trouble, but is it not a pity that Esteghlal and Persepolis can not participate in these competitions while they have so much capital?” tweeted Mehdi Taremi, the Iranian national team’s star striker.