ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – World football’s governing body, FIFA, has asked Iraq to find a neutral venue to host its upcoming World Cup 2022 qualifiers as violent, nationwide protests continue in the country.
In a letter to the Iraqi Football Association (IFA), FIFA said it has been “closely monitoring the safety and security situation in Iraq” for the past few weeks, where anti-government demonstrations are rampant.
It added that due to the “significant deterioration of the overall security situation,” Iraq’s upcoming matches against Iran and Bahrain, scheduled to be played at the Basra Sports City Stadium, must be relocated to a “neutral venue outside Iraq.”
The move “will enable all interested parties to focus their attention on delivering both matches successfully within a safe and secure environment,” the FIFA statement read.
Iraq is set to play Iran on Nov. 14 before they host Bahrain five days later. FIFA has given the IFA until Nov. 7 to find a suitable venue for the qualifiers.
The request comes as a blow to the progress of Iraqi football. In August, FIFA allowed Iraq to play international qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup at home following a decision to lift a three-decade ban on the country for hosting international matches.
The Basra Sports City Stadium seats 65,000 people and is one of the country’s top sporting facilities suitable for international games.
Iraq is in Group C of the Asian Football Confederation’s (AFC) 2022 FIFA World Cup qualification, a group that consists of rivals Iran, Bahrain, Hong Kong, and Cambodia.
They are currently top of the group, having won two matches and drawn one.