By Paul Nicholson
September 17 – A row in Iran over broadcast rights and the piracy of the current round of Asian Champions League matches has escalated to complaints of political interference – from the Iranian government – and now looks likely to seriously impact the country’s chances of winning the bid to host the 2027 Asian Cup.
Iran has always been a pressure cooker of football emotions with the game often being its window to the rest of the world and the non-Arab world in particular. Iran has declared its intention to host the region’s top national competition in 2027 and is bidding against Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Uzbekistan and India.
To win that bid Iran’s football federation (FFIRI) and its sports ministry needs to make friends in the region – a task that it looks unlikely to achieve, particularly following a letter sent today to FIFA and the IOC by the country’s sports minister complaining of political interference.
It is a remarkable (read comical) turn in the tale of a football nation and federation that lost an appeal at CAS against a FIFA judgement to pay former coach Marc Wilmots $6 million in compensation, which in turn triggered an investigation into the Iranian federation by the Iranian sports ministry over what it described as “serious mismanagement” of its affairs. FIFA had already showed concern over the involvement of government in the football federation’s affairs.
State sponsored broadcast piracy
The current broadcast piracy crisis arises from the international sanctions imposed on the country. The AFC’s commercial agents Sport 5 informed the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) in February that it could not fulfil a previously agreed contract for the Asian Champions League (ACL) due to the trade sanctions imposed on the country.
With matches restarting, IRIB have reacted aggressively by pirating matches from the group stages of the ACL that are currently underway and have been centralised in Qatar.
To enable broadcasts of matches into Iran, the AFC used the Apart streaming service – Iran’s equivalent of Youtube and which is not on the international sanctions list.
On Monday Iran’s Shahr Khodro were in action with the first half of the match broadcast on Apart. The second half wasn’t streamed with the signal being blocked in Iran, as was the AFC’s website. Instead the signal was pirated by the IRIB and appeared on its websites in the country.
On Tuesday two other Iranian teams – Persepolis and Sepahan – were in action and scheduled to be streamed on the AFC sanctioned channel. However, both clubs started promoting their games on illegal streams while Aparat was told it had to apply to the state broadcast and technology commission (SATRA) for a license to broadcast the matches – SATRA is controlled by the IRIB.
For the AFC the issue has escalated in importance with many of the illegal streams pirating ACL matches are not geo-blocked to Iran and hence potentially cutting across other rights agreements.
The AFC will be uncompromising with Iran over the piracy and the threat it poses to football’s commercial partners in the region and beyond..
A federation close to the edge
The Iranian federation was already walking a governance tightrope with former president Ali Kafashian saying that the FFIRI’s statues had not been amended for eight years, despite FIFA having sent communication that they needed to be brought into line with all its members.
“The statutes should have been amended four years ago. Both FIFA and AFC make amendments on their statutes every year, and the member association should take those amendments into account. For this reason, I proposed that a select committee would be formed four years ago to amend the statutes. It is more than eight years that we haven’t had any statute revision,” said Kafashian.
FIFA has told the FFIRI that it needs to suspend elections that are now overdue, until the statutes are amended. FIFA has also asked for detail on the government investigation into the FFIRI and the allegations of mismanagement.
The federation looks to be ‘caught between a rock and a hard place’ of the government on one side and FIFA on the other.
“The Iranian football federation statutes will be amended to the extent that the country’s legal framework allows,” Kafashian said.
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