Iran cuts AFC Champions League signal after rights held from IRIB
By Jonathan Rest
The return of the AFC Asian Champions League, soccer's top continental clubs competition, was blacked out in Iran last night following a growing dispute between authorities in the country and the Asian Football Confederation, Sportcal has learned.
The Champions League resumed yesterday following a long coronavirus-enforced hiatus, but fans in Iran were left without coverage of the second half of local team Shahr Kodro's 1-0 defeat by UAE's Shabib Al Ahli Dubai in the West Region group stages after the signal was suddenly cut.
IRIB, the state broadcaster in Iran, has been the traditional rights-holder of the AFC Champions League in the country, but it was informed by the AFC early this year that a new broadcaster was being sought in the country as a result of IRIB being placed on the international sanctions list.
Without a linear TV agreement in place, the AFC struck a live streaming deal with Aparat, the popular video streaming service in Iran, to show the group stage matches.
Aparat showed the first half of last night's matches before the signal was cut.
In addition, the AFC website in Iran was also disabled, Sportcal understands.
According to reports in the region, the Football Federation Islamic Republic of Iran claims the AFC has cancelled the rights contract with IRIB and is refusing to provide the broadcast signal to the Champions League in the country.
It said it has has written to the AFC in protest.
The AFC would not be drawn on the dispute with the Iranian authorities, telling Sportcal in a statement: "The AFC are doing everything they can to make AFC Champions League (West) matches available to the millions of fans in the Islamic Republic of Iran through legitimate platforms as official rights holders. We continue to discuss this with all our stakeholders to deliver a lawful broadcast."
Two more Iranian teams - Persepolis and Sepahan - are set to play tonight in the Champions League, but it seems unlikely those matches will be available to watch legally live in Iran giving the present situation.
The fourth Iranian participant in this season's Champions League, Esteghal, had their game against Al Wahda postponed yesterday because the UAE side could not travel due to a number of players testing positive for Covid-19.
The dispute will not help Iran's bid to stage the 2027 Asian Cup, the continent's top national teams tournament, in which it faces strong competition from Qatar, Saudi Arabia, India and Uzbekistan.