Iranintl - Persepolis football club's charter flight to Riyadh was denied permission from the Riyadh airport due to the airline's links on “military and security institutions," Iran International has learned.
The team was scheduled to depart Friday morning for their match against Al Nassr on Monday as part of the Asian Champions League, but it was announced on the Iranian football club's website that the flight had been canceled.
Later on Friday, Iranian state news outlets blamed the airline for the cancellation. IRGC-affiliated Fars News reported that “according to Saudi Arabia’s laws, only a few Iranian airlines that usually fly Hajj pilgrims can land at Riyadh airport.”However, this particular airliner, which remains unnamed, was not among the authorized companies.
Moreover, Fars News said it was possible that the flight was chosen because it was “cheaper,” a questionable motive for one of the wealthiest clubs in the country.
According to other sources, Persepolis' private jet, owned by Chabahar Airlines, is barred from entering Saudi Arabia. This restriction is based on a policy prohibiting the entry of aircraft over 25 years old to Jeddah and Riyadh airports.
Several Iranian airlines, including Mahan Air -- affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), have been banned by countries such as the US and France on the grounds that they transport military equipment and personnel to Syria and other areas in the Middle East.
Relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia have long been strained and this year's Asian football Champions League is the first since 2016 in which clubs from both nations have been permitted to play one another home and away. Matches between clubs from the two nations were previously played on neutral territory due to security concerns.