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FIFA boss says Saudi-Iran spat should keep out of football

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Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (R) and FIFA president Gianni Infantino hold a football shirt with Rouhani’s name during Infantino’s visit to the capital Tehran on March 1, 2018 © IRANIAN PRESIDENCY/AFP / HO

TEHRAN, Iran, Mar 1 – FIFA president Gianni Infantino said on Thursday that a two-year diplomatic rift between Saudi Arabia and Iran should not be allowed to get in the way of football.

Saudi clubs have refused to play in Iran since the kingdom broke off relations in January 2016 forcing AFC Champions League fixtures with Iranian clubs to be played in neutral Oman.

“It’s very clear that politics should stay out of football and football should stay out of politics,” Infantino said at a joint news conference in Tehran with Iranian Sport Minister Massoud Soltanifar.

“There are of course political issues between countries all over the world but this should not have an impact on the football tournament.

“The solution is always just to play home and away like in every competition in every country.”

The FIFA chief acknowledged that Saudi Arabia had voiced security concerns after protesters angry at its execution of a top Shiite cleric attacked its embassy and a consulate in Iran, prompting it to cut ties.

“Obviously the guarantees must be there, the safety must be there,” he said.

The Iranian minister denied there were any legitimate security concerns.

“Iran is a totally safe country,” he said, while welcoming “FIFA’s non-political approach”.

“We asked (Infantino) to insist on that so we can host games in the normal way from the next round and our clubs will not be forced to go to third countries to be able to play,” Soltanifar said.

Later on Thursday, Infantino also met President Hassan Rouhani who urged FIFA to ensure “questions not related to sport do not influence sport and that people are not deprived of watching competitions in their own stadiums”.

The FIFA president then went to watch a derby match between Tehran rivals Persepolis and Esteghlal.

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