Football may be the global game – activity that brings people together – but it can also highlight when a relationship is becoming cooler.
Earlier this week, the United Arab Emirates cancelled a friendly game with Iran, which was due to take place on April 17, as tensions between the two countries have been rising.
It’s all about a dispute over the tiny but resource rich Abu Musa island, as well as the nearby Greater and Lesser Tunb islands.
All three came under Iranian control in 1971 after the departure of the British, but the UAE also claim the islands. All are all close to the strategically important Strait of Hormuz, a narrow body of water that sees about one-fifth of the world’s oil pass through on a daily basis.
Just last week, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad annoyed the UAE by visiting Abu Musa, the first Iranian president to do so.
UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan announced his country’s displeasure, and said that the visit was “a flagrant violation of the United Arab Emirates’ sovereignty over its territory and a transgression of efforts to find a peaceful settlement to end Iranian occupation of the three UAE islands.”
“The United States appreciates the UAE’s efforts in this regard and urges Iran to respond positively to the UAE’s initiative to resolve the issue through direct negotiations,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement. “Actions such as the April 11 visit by Iranian President Ahmadinejad to the Abu Musa island only complicate efforts to settle the issue.”
The visit was also condemned by UAE’s Arab neighbors.
Regardless, as so often happens, football fans and players pay the price for diplomatic spats, and in this case, the UAE Football Association soon called off a planned match.
“The decision comes in line with the official stand of the UAE and the condemnation of the visit by the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Abu Musa Island which is occupied by Iran since 1971,” it said in an official statement posted on its website.
UAE FA President Yousef Abdullah said that a friendly match should be played between friends.
It’s not the first time that Iran has seen football games disappear due to non-football reasons. In 2010, Nigeria cancelled a trip to Tehran as they claimed Iran had helped to arm militant groups in the country.