A statue of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani displayed at the stadium. Photo: al-Ekhbariya channel
Ittihad, which travelled to Isfahan for the match, decided to withdraw from the game after the Iranian hosts declined to remove the statue and other political banners, despite requests from match officials, Saudi state television al-Ekhbariya reported.
The statue of Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Iraq in 2020, was placed at the entrance of the pitch, which made it visible to the players.
“The AFC reiterates its commitment towards ensuring the safety and security of the players, match officials, spectators, and all stakeholders involved. This matter will now be referred to the relevant committees,” a statement by the Asian Football Confederation said.
The Iranian government hailed Soleimani as a national hero and a martyr.
Iranian media said Sepahan would file a complaint with the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) over Ittihad's decision, which they called a violation of sports ethics and regulations.
Some Sepahan fans also expressed their dissatisfaction with the presence of the statue, chanting "We don't want politics in football" and "Remove the statue" inside the stadium, according to videos posted on social media.
Saudi and Iranian teams have resumed competition, both at home and away, for the first time since 2016 following a recent political reconciliation between the two nations earlier this year.
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