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AFC Champions League coverage in Iran hit amidst standoff

The Football Federation Islamic Republic of Iran (FFIRI) has claimed that an AFC Champions League broadcast deal in the country has been terminated by the Asian Football Confederation due to “international sanctions”.

An announcement came ahead of the resumption of the 2020 AFC Champions League yesterday (Monday) following a six-month hiatus caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. The tournament’s West Zone matches are being played in Qatar.

The Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), the state-controlled broadcaster in Iran, is the incumbent rights-holder in the country but the FFIRI said that its agreement has been cancelled and the broadcast signal withheld.

However, the AFC’s rights sales team’s ability to do business in Iran has been seriously hampered by IRIB being placed on the international sanctions list.

Therefore, in order to ensure coverage, an agreement was put in place by the AFC for the Champions League matches to be aired on Aparat, the Iranian video sharing and live streaming platform.

However, the free streaming on Aparat is understood to have been blocked by an unknown party, with the AFC’s account on the platform also blocked in Iran, along with access to the continental federation’s website.

The FFIRI had claimed that it “properly and accordingly expects the AFC to have the necessary platform for live broadcasting of the matches by IRIB”.

Four Iranian clubs are taking part in the AFC Champions League, namely Esteghlal, Persepolis, Sepahan and Shahr Khodro.

Iran is one of five bidders to host the AFC’s Asian Cup in 2027. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, India and Uzbekistan are the other countries to have submitted their formal candidature to host the event.

In June, the AFC initiated a territory-by-territory broadcast rights sales process in 10 countries across the Middle East. The Request for Proposals for the forthcoming rights cycle covers Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Palestine, Oman, Qatar, Syria and Yemen.

Separate rights sales processes are being conducted in each territory. The rights sales processes in Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates are already underway and a separate process is to be undertaken in Iran.

Hong Kong-based Football Marketing Asia is the exclusive commercial agency of the AFC for the 2021-24 and 2025-28 and rights cycles. However, the agency agreement excluded the media rights in the Middle East and North Africa region.