Since relations broke down in 2016, football matches between Iranian and Saudi clubs were played on neutral grounds.
Saudi Arabia and Iran have attained a “groundbreaking” deal to resume home-and-away football matches between club sides, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) announced on Monday.
The deal comes ahead of the playoff stages of the 2023-2024 AFC Champions League that witnessed Qatari teams exiting the tournament earlier than expected.
Now, the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed will allow the Saudi Arabian Football Federations (SAFF) and Football Federation Islamic Republic of Iran (FFIRI) to not only compete with one another on the same pitch in their respective countries but will also advance the promotion of football there.
“This MoU not only fosters ties between our federations but will also carve a path for our youth, women, and the entire football community to succeed and enjoy the many benefits and opportunities available through the beautiful game,” said Yasser Al Misehal, President of SAFF.
Agreeing with the Saudi statement, Mehdi Taj, President of FFIRI, voiced: “This is a truly historic day for two nations bound by an enduring love for football, a sport adored by millions with so much potential still to explore and realise.”
The AFC has described the MoU agreement for the two countries as a “spirit of competition and camaraderie.”
“The AFC welcomes the historic move as it reflects the commitment of both the SAFF and FFIRI towards fostering closer ties between their respective footballing communities, allowing clubs to host matches on their home turf and visiting the respective away stadiums, creating a more engaging and exciting experience for the fans and players alike,” the AFC said in a statement on Monday.
“Passionate fans across Saudi Arabia, IR Iran and the whole of Asia can now look forward to a thrilling new chapter in club and national team football as teams from SAFF and FFIRI compete in the spirit of competition and camaraderie,” the AFC statement added.
Earlier this year, the former rivals announced a historic breakthrough agreement brokered by China to resume ties after years of tumultuous relations.
Ties were severed in 2016 after the Saudi diplomatic mission in Iran was attacked during protests over Riyadh’s execution of leading Shia figure Nimr al-Nimr.
During that time, the AFC Competitions Committee and AFC Executive Committee held meetings in Doha to allow for football matches between the two countries to kick off on neutral ground.
In a letter to SAFF and IRIFF at the time, the AFC expressed disappointment with the travel restrictions that offered no special dispensation for football teams.
“It is most unfortunate for the AFC to learn that at the time of writing, the Saudi Arabian government has yet to lift the travel restrictions on their nationals, which prohibit travel to IR Iran. This travel ban offers no special dispensation for football teams,” the letter read.
This month, several international superstars on the Saudi side will kick off their Asian Champions League campaign.
Al Nassr, which features famed superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, will compete in Tehran’s Azadi Stadium on September 19 against Persepolis, while Neymar’s Al Hilal and Karim Benezama’s Al Ittihad will also journey to Iran during the group phase.