Four days before the Palestinian and Iranian soccer teams were to meet for a friendly, the Palestinian Football Association canceled the match due to “technical” problems, sparking outrage and rumors that the cancellation had been instigated by Arab countries in the Persian Gulf.
In a letter addressed to the Iranian team, the secretary-general of the Palestinian Football Association wrote of the scheduled Dec. 28 friendly, “I want to take this opportunity to thank you for the planning that was done for this meeting. But, unfortunately, I have to inform you that due to technical reasons after returning from China and preparing for the AFC Asian Cup in Australia, the Palestinian team is not able to meet.”
The letter continued, “We are aware of the importance of this meeting [which is] based on historical brotherliness of the two teams,” and the secretary-general added that he hoped the two teams could continue their cooperation in the future.
When news of the cancellation broke, many websites included an exclamation point at the end of their headlines to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with the late cancellation. Some news websites that republished the letter headlined their story, “Apology from Palestinians after cancelling friendly with Iran,” but some readers in the comments section were quick to point out that the letter contained no such apology.
Former Iranian sportscaster Mehdi Rostampour, who now lives in Denmark but often offers analysis on Iranian sports, wrote a Facebook post about the cancellation. The post was reshared nearly 300 times and republished in full by a number of Persian-language Facebook news sites.
Rostampour's post read, “If Palestine had a foreign coach, it would still be accepted, but the decision to cancel the game was by Saeb Jendeya, a Palestinian coach from Gaza. The game with Palestine was finalized on Oct. 3. They had eighty-some days to pull out, but with four days left to the game, they said they’re not coming. This is neither legal nor professional.”
In comparison, on Iranian players pulling out of competitions with Israeli players during international games, due to Iran not recognizing the state of Israel, and being forced to accept an elimination, Rostampour wrote, “It’s been more than three decades that our athletes, without competing, are defeated by Israeli competitors. Eliminated, deprived and without a medal they return to Iran.”
According to Rostampour, “In the worst-case scenario, this is the role of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. It’s a type of regional collusion. Palestine went to camp in the UAE, a competitor in our group. Before that, they went for practice and games in Saudi Arabia.” The news website Khabar Khoon also said that rumors that the UAE, Bahrain and Qatar were behind the cancellation “is not unlikely.” In a report for Radio Farda, Rostampour wrote that the reason for the last-minute cancellation was that since Iran was in the same group as UAE, Bahrain and Qatar, it prevented Iran from finding a replacement match.
Rostampour said, however, “In the best case scenario, they were ungrateful.” He did not elaborate on what he meant, but the issue of Palestine is always a hot topic on Iranian social media.
Iran is a strong supporter of Palestinian groups and has repeatedly said it would offer political, economic and military aid to any Palestinian group that opposes Israeli occupation. Iran has paid a huge political and economic price for this support. Meanwhile, countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which take less of a hardline with respect to Israel, have even failed to deliver on money pledged to Gaza. These factors, as Rostampour’s Facebook post demonstrates, trigger heated debate on Iranian social media when Palestinian groups and politicians favor Arab countries over Iran.