Asian Football Confederation’s biased decisions against Iran

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PFDC – An open letter from an Iranian journalist living in Iran in regards to biased decisions against Iranian teams by the AFC. This letter has been sent to the world of football. Please share to as many as you can to help stop this clear unfairness by the AFC. An organ that is responsible of keeping football clean is acting unbelievably biased towards Iranian football.

To: World Football Leaders

Dear fellow football lovers, My name is Sajjad Bayat. I am a football journalist, based in Tehran, Iran. I am writing to draw your attention to an injustice that has been inflicted on Iranian football, disguised by the Asian Football Confederation as a COVID-19 preventative measure. In reality, it is anything but.

I have been a keen follower of football, domestic and international by equal measures since my childhood. In the last quarter of the century of my following international football, I have bonded with fans around the world due to a mutual love for football, the game that at its best unites us all.

Our world has suffered from an unprecedented global pandemic that brought new perspectives to our lives. However, the first signs of hope occurred when Korea Republic became the first country in the world to restart their domestic season in May 2020. Others followed suit, countries shared their experiences of how to deal with staging football matches in a new challenging world. It was Football at its best that brought glimmers of hope back into our shattered lives.

Like domestic football, international tournaments were interrupted and football’s global calendar have had to be rewritten several times. This will continue to be the case until our world can rid itself of this pandemic in an unforeseen future.

Asia, the continent I was born in, lost all of its FIFA international match dates in 2020 as well as the two FIFA dates in 2021. In the process, the eight groups in the first group stage of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 qualifiers had to be rescheduled and even possibly reformatted. This discussion was of great interest to football fans and journalists in Iran, myself included.

The eight AFC five-team groups had concluded six rounds of matches between September and November 2019. Iran and seven other top seeded nations, had played three away and one home match – with the home match, having been against the lowest seeded teams in their groups. Top seeded teams, like Iran, were to play three home and one away match in the second half of each group’s fixtures.

Early in 2021, The Asian Football Confederation invited its member associations to a virtual meeting of 16 February to discuss and explore various options to conclude the last four rounds of matches in each of the eight groups.

Following Arabic social media reports, specifically from Bahrain and Iraq, we were astonished to read that Bahrain would host the remaining eight matches of AFC’s Group C, including Iran’s THREE HOME games, one of which would be against Bahrain as well. Due to the competitive nature of Group C and the fact that Bahrain had already played Iran in Bahrain in October 2019, we regarded those reports as wishful thinking. After all, the AFC meeting of 16 February 2021 with its member associations had not even taken place when these reports first emerged the week prior to the said virtual meeting !!

Following the 16 February 2021 AFC meeting with its member associations, we were further astounded when Iran’s national team head coach, Dragan Skočić, was quoted as saying that during the 16 February 2021 meeting, as soon as the concept of each group’s remaining eight matches being played in one centralized venue, the Bahrain representative announced their intent to host Group C matches, including their return away match against Iran in Tehran !!!!

We were still hopeful that the AFC would make the right decision, based on:

– National COVID-19 Status – The Spirit of Fair Play

It was expected that Iran, like all other top seeded teams would host the centralized format of matches in June 2021. After all, the likes of China, Japan, Korea Republic, Saudi Arabia, UAE and etc … were indeed chosen to host the balance of their group matches, taking into account the above criterion.

But, above all and in current global health crisis, each country’s National COVID-19 status should

have been given top priority to protect the health and safety of all concerned. The state of Bahrain is a country of 1.6-million people, all living in an island of 760 km . This makes it one of the most

densely populated countries in the world with over 1,800 people living in every square kilometer.

In September 2020, health authorities in Bahrain declared a 15-day national quarantine when their registered daily positive cases had surpassed 800 people. During this period, Bahrain’s national football league that had resumed play in August 2020, stopped its matches, like all other aspects of life in our neighbors to the south.

You have all learned and applied extensive planning and identifying risks in staging any football event in your country at any level. Similarly, it should have been inconceivable for the AFC to choose Bahrain as a host nation for Group C. They should have thought about the potential possibility of another outbreak in June 2021, the consequence of which would spell high risks of staging matches in such a small country. But, did they assess that risk? Fans in Iran do not believe they did.

AFC announced the eight hosts of its qualifying groups on Friday, 12 March. Whereas there were no surprises in the selection of seven of the eight groups, the selection of Bahrain by the AFC General Secretary – and not by its competition committee – was a huge shock to fans in Iran and those few outside Iran who were following the news. Against any rational decision making procedure, Bahrain, the home country of the Asian Football Confederation President – Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa – had been chosen to host group C matches.

The AFC left all Iranian and international media queries regarding this subject unanswered. AFC officials visited Bahrain’s proposed venues to stage Group C matches one month AFTER they had made their decision. That visit happened to have taken place ten days after the Iranian federation lodged a legal case against AFC’s decision at CAS and two days after the FIFA President’s meeting with the Amir of Bahrain. The said facts were a hot topic of speculations amongst Iranian fans and journalists alike. The conclusion they drew were very obvious, specially when we did not hear of any other AFC site visit of other seven countries they had chosen to host these centralized matches in June 2021.

As it has turned out, every nightmare of football fans in Iran has come true. Bahrain has been experiencing rising daily number of COVID-19 cases since March, when the AFC was choosing the eight host nations. The AFC clearly did not take into account the rising trend of COVID-19 cases in Bahrain, well documented according to World Health Organization (WHO) official statistics. The AFC had not indeed considered a sudden exponential jump in number of positive cases in such a small and densely populated country such as Bahrain in their risk assessment, if they had conducted one.

In the past week, Bahrain’s daily number of positive cases has passed 3,000 people. This number is four times higher than last September in Bahrain when local football was, in fact, suspended. Similar to September 2020, the government of Bahrain has declared a two-week nation

wide emergency quarantine and urged their citizens to stay home while an individual member of each family should leave their homes for essential purposes only. Like Bahrain, Malaysia – home to the Asian Football Confederation – has also gone to a two-week national quarantine and as such AFC staff members and its General Secretary (Windsor John) must be working from the safety of their home.

Singapore, hosts of two AFC Cup groups, an Asian club competition, withdrew from its hosting duties following the emergence of only 30 positive COVID-19 cases in that nation island. Singapore is of the exact geographical size of Bahrain. However, with three times the population of Bahrain, Singapore’s 30 daily cases pales in comparison to Bahrain’s 3,000 plus daily cases.

Argentina just squandered hosting of the upcoming “Copa America” following their increase in their daily records. In Asia, Group A matches moved from China to UAE after the first match of the group between China and Guam was staged, while three other teams could not gain entry to China due to China’s strict entry requirements. Should the AFC General Secretary not have foreseen China’s rigid entry regulations?

I just saw a report that Bangladesh will not allow any passenger flying from Bahrain entering their country. It is thought that the British government is also about to introduce compulsory 10-day hotel quarantine for passengers arriving from Bahrain.

In the midst of this human catastrophe, so determined has the AFC been that the home country of its president would benefit from their 12 March 2021 decision that they had no contingency plans for such grave conditions for the citizens of Bahrain and the five national teams they are forcing to play in the most COVID-19 contaminated country in the world, per capita, right now.

I invite you to follow social media reports from Bahrain, mostly in Arabic, to realize the seriousness of the situation in Bahrain at the present time. Elsewhere in the world, Football matches and tournaments had to have taken a back seat to the safety of citizens and those involved in football in far less critical conditions.

Less importantly, AFC had also given Bahrain the nudge for their superior facilities, compared to those in Iran !! The very Iran that both AFC and FIFA had asked to host the home matches of FIFA World Cup qualifies of Iraq and Afghanistan in 2015 and 2016 while Iran was also playing their own official home matches simultaneously.

AFC and FIFA did not find any logistical issues for three national teams to play their official home games in Iran in 2015 and 2016, and all in one city. But, suddenly the venues that had graced the presence of the greats of football, i.e. Pele, Beckenbauer, German national team (2004) and many official AFC and FIFA competitions during hundreds of international matches over the decades, became inferior to those in Bahrain !!!!

On Wednesday, 2 June, Iran national team head coach – Dragan Skočić – and FC Porto’s Iran international, Mehdi Taremi, visited the venue of their today’s match against Hong Kong. Both were surprised and upset by pitch conditions that AFC had found far better than those in Iran !!!!

Iranian football fans are furious. We have been upset with our own federation over the years for their failings of our football for one reason or another. But, on this occasion, the opinion of Iranian football fans is that Iranian football has been treated as a sacrificial lamb for the benefit of Bahrain, the country whose chief football administrator – Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa – is also the President of the Asian Football Confederation, a FIFA Vice President and a member of the FIFA Council.

Regardless of the final outcome of Group C matches and indeed whether the fixtures can be completed due to Bahrain’s ever increasingly critical COVID-19 conditions, Iran’s 85-million passionate football fans (the whole country) will never forget, nor forgive this high level of injustice.

While Iranian football fans feel helpless and have to witness this act of utter injustice, I am forwarding this letter to all national, confederation and global football officials to enlighten you all. Let this case be the last one that a country, however small or big, anywhere in the world would benefit from their influence in the corridors of power.

Our game should remain pure and just, in our corners of the world. As fans in Europe demonstrated their outrage against the concept of a European Super League, our cries should be heard and taken into consideration, now that an unthinkable level of injustice has been levied against Iranian football. In the process, AFC has disregarded health protocols of world football, the one single aspect of any decision that any organization should consider at all costs to protect lives. This could happen to any national team anywhere in the world. Please help to stop this injustice at all levels of the game we all dearly love.

Yours in Football

Sajjad Bayat – Football Journalist On behalf of Iranian Football Fans Tehran, Iran


FIFA Member Associations FIFA




Chair, Organizing Committee for FIFA Competitions, AFC General Secretary
AFC Media
FIFA Media

World Health Organizations
Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS)


The Guardian Newspaper,
Major International News Agencies, Iranian News Agencies

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