TEHRAN: Iran’s Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports Masoud Soltanifar has strongly criticized the decision by the AFC – Asian Football Confederation to ban Iran from hosting any international matches.

Soltanifar dismissed the security concerns expressed by AFC in its preliminary decision calling Iran a ‘very safe’ country for sports and international athletes.

The Iranian minister also called the ban a violation of Iranian fans to enjoy football matches at their home grounds and urged the AFC to remain unbiased and depoliticized in its decision-making process.

The Asian football body had earlier asked Iran to host all of its upcoming 2020 AFC Championship matches at neutral venues outside Iran.

The preliminary decision yet-to-be ratified by the AFC’s executive committee did not cite any particular reason behind it but it has likely been caused by the downing of a Ukrainian airliner by Iranian forces on January 8 amid the rising tension in the region.

The controversial decision sparked widespread criticism by Iran’s football community with fans lambasting the decision and calling it unfair to them.

Meanwhile, The IFF – Iran Football Federation has also announced that the four Iranians teams in the 2020 AFC Championship will boycott the tournament if not allowed to lay their matches at the home grounds.

It is pertinent to mention that football is the most popular sports in Iran with 449,644 registered players at the local, club and national level.

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