Al-Hilal vs Sepahan FC: Iranian club removes slain general's bust before AFC clash

By
Web Desk
A bust of slain Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander Qasem Soleimani is displayed before the AFC Champions League Group C match between Iran’s Sepahan and Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ittihad on Oct 2, 2023, which resulted in the game’s cancellation. —AFP
A bust of slain Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander Qasem Soleimani is displayed before the AFC Champions League Group C match between Iran’s Sepahan and Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ittihad on Oct 2, 2023, which resulted in the game’s cancellation. —AFP

In preparation for their upcoming AFC Champions League Round of 16 match against Al-Hilal, Iranian club Sepahan removed political statues from Naqsh-e Jahan stadium, as reported by Arriyadiyah.

The written pledge, disclosed by an unnamed source and reported by Saudi sports publication Arriyadiyah, assures the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) that statues and other logos with political implications will be eliminated before the clash with the Blues on Thursday.

This development follows a previous incident where Sepahan faced penalties from the AFC for displaying three busts of late Revolutionary Guard warlord Qassem Soleimani during a match against Saudi club Al-Ittihad on October 2, 2023. The confederation's rules strictly prohibit political, racist, and ethnic symbols in the stands.

After Ittihad raised concerns about the political symbols, Sepahan refused to remove the busts and other political slogans, resulting in the match being abandoned. Subsequently, the AFC awarded Ittihad a 3-0 victory, banned Sepahan from Naqsh-e Jahan stadium for three fixtures, and imposed a $200,000 fine.

Despite these past issues, Sepahan has played recent Champions League matches at Azadi Stadium in Tehran. As Al-Hilal prepares to head to Isfahan on Tuesday for the match, the club is anticipated to conduct at least one training session at Naqsh-e Jahan stadium.

Al-Hilal qualified from the group stages with an impressive record, winning five out of six games, while Sepahan secured their place by finishing second in Group C, trailing Ittihad by five points.

The looming clash and Sepahan's commitment to removing contentious statues underscore the significance of maintaining AFC regulations and ensuring a politically neutral environment within the stadium.