The Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) has issued an apology after its national team failed to observe a minute’s silence for the victims of the London terror attacks ahead of the start of a World Cup qualifier in Australia.
The team was playing against the Socceroos on Thursday night at Adelaide Oval when the Australian team lined up in the centre circle to pay tribute to the eight people who were killed and 50 injured after three attackers mowed down pedestrians on London Bridge before turning knives on them. Two of the dead were Australian.
Though silent, all bar one of the Saudi players dispersed around the pitch and continued to jog and stretch, prompting Australian supporters at the stadium to boo them.
Football Federation Australia (FFA) said it had “sought agreement” from the Saudis and regional governing body, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) to hold the silence.
“Both the AFC and the Saudi team agreed that the minute of silence could be held,” a spokesman told Reuters.
“The FFA was further advised by Saudi team officials that this tradition was not in keeping with Saudi culture and they would move to their side of the field and respect our custom whilst taking their own positions on the field.”
In a statement the SAFF said it “deeply regrets and unreservedly apologises for any offence caused by the players’ actions.”
It continued: “The players did not intend any disrespect to the memories or the victims or to cause upset to their families, friends or any individual affected by the atrocity.
“The Saudi Arabian Football Federation condemns all acts of terrorism and extremism and extends its sincerest condolences to the families of all the victims and to the Government and people of the United Kingdom.”
The AFC said it had monitored the incident, as well as “various statements”, but that any disciplinary action against the Saudis would have to come from world governing body FIFA, who have jurisdiction over all World Cup qualifiers.
The incident prompted a social media storm, with many describing the incident as “disrespectful”, “shocking” and “disgraceful.”
Australia won the match 3-2 to move level on 16 points in Group B with the second-placed Saudis and leaders Japan, who have a game in hand, with two rounds to play.
The top two teams win a place at the World Cup finals in Russia next year.