Iran accuses UAE of racism in renaming Pro League to the Arabian Gulf League

Pro League logoBy Mark Baber
May 29 - A row has broken out between the football authorities of the UAE and Iran after the announcement that the UAE Pro League will be renamed the Arabian Gulf League from next season.

H.E. Mohammed Thani Murshed Al Romaithi, chairman of the Pro League committee, announced at the conclusion of the Etisalat Pro League Awards that from the 2013-2014 season onwards the UAE's professional football league will operate under the new name of The Arabian Gulf League.

Al Romaithi explained that the new name is in recognition of the Gulf being one of the country's most important resources for life in the region, saying: "Football in the UAE is moving into a new phase, and with it we adopt a new name to take us forward from next season. We pledge our allegiance to the Arabian Gulf as the heart of the Arabic origin and heritage. Announcing this new name is a letter of love from the UAE to the Gulf; we name our League after the Arabian Gulf as a gesture to show our appreciation for the bounteous resources and opportunities it has afforded us."

The name change comes six years after the Pro League was launched and was backed during the week by UAE FA President Yousuf Al Serkal who said: "It is a positive step, the leaders' goal is always the unity of the Gulf so to have a competition named after the Arabian Gulf I see as a step forward.

"We have succeeded other countries in the Gulf to have an awareness of the Arabian Gulf as the name for a very important competition of ours."

Al Serkal added: "If it becomes a regional competition that's a good move and we would be the ones to initiate it.

"If it doesn't then we have the rights for the name that we will register and that is very good."

However, the Iranian authorities, whose premier league has been known as the Persian Gulf Cup since 2006, were unhappy with the new name and the head of the Legal Committee and Regulations of Iran's Football Federation, Houshang Nasirzadeh, saying the country will soon file a complaint against the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for using a "fake name for Persian Gulf in the title of its soccer league."

Nasirzadeh said the UAE move was contrary to a 1995 UN circular which stressed all countries should use the term "Persian Gulf" to refer to the waterway and accordingly "Iran's Football Federation will object to the fake naming in the next two days. It will send a letter to the FIFA ethics committee. It regards the UAE's behaviour as politically-tainted and racist."

The body of water between Iran and the Arabian peninsula has historically been known as the Persian Gulf, with the Red Sea originally termed the Arabian Gulf. However, since the 1960s there have been increasing efforts by the Gulf countries to rename the waterway, which have led to controversy before, not least when the Islamic Solidarity Games, due to be held in Iran in April 2010, were called off over the issue.

Since its inception the UAE top league has been known as the Etisalat Pro League yet Etisalat Executive Director Mohammed Al Hashemi revealed the multinational telecommunications company were caught unaware by the announcement. In the past Etisalat have regarded Iran as a great investment opportunity, although they were knocked back after winning a major contract in 2009.

Al Hashemisaid said, "We understand the Commission's decision, announced by Mohammed Thani Al Rumaithi, their desire to emphasize the strength of the relations between the Gulf states, but it came without an agreement with us, but this is their right in the end, after five years of work."

He added: "I cannot talk about the numbers before or later, but what I can assure is that the physical sponsorship of the PLC will be reduced by changing the label."

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