An Asian Champions League match between Iran’s Sepahan FC and Al-Ittihad of Saudi Arabia was called off on October 2 after the Saudi football team refused to leave their dressing-room due to the presence of an Iranian general’s statue at the entrance to the pitch.
The game was postponed by officials at the Naghsh-e Jahan Stadium in Isfahan, where around 60,000 fans had turned out to see the match.
Pictures shared on social media show that the bust of late General Qasem Soleimani would have been in full view of the players as they exited the tunnel.
"We don't want politicized football," the fans chanted after the game was called off.
Government-affiliated media outlets in Iran reported that the Saudi team left the stadium, without explaining the reason.
The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) said in a statement that the game was "cancelled due to unanticipated and unforeseen circumstances."
"The AFC reiterates its commitment towards ensuring the safety and security of the players, match officials, spectators, and all stakeholders involved," it said. “This matter will now be referred to the relevant committees."
Soleimani, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ expeditionary Quds Force, was killed in a US drone strike near Baghdad International Airport in January 2020. He is considered a martyr by the Islamic Republic.
Two weeks ago, the Saudi team Al-Nassr faced Persepolis at Tehran’s Azadi Stadium. The match ended 2-0 in favor of Al-Nassr.
Relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia have long been strained, and this year's Asian Champions League is the first since 2016 in which clubs from both countries have been permitted to play one another home and away.
Matches between Iranian and Saudi teams had previously been played in stadiums on neutral territory.