The Saudi Arabian Football Federation has apologised for “any offence caused” after its players declined to join in a minute’s silence in memory of the London Bridge attacks before the start of a World Cup qualifying match.
When the stadium announcer in Adelaide, Australia, called for a minute’s silence on Thursday night to honour the eight victims – including two Australians – the 11 home players on the field lined up near the centre circle with arms around their team-mates’ shoulders.
Their opponents from Saudi Arabia stayed on the other side, most seemingly ignoring the gesture, which sparked an immediate backlash. Video appeared to show one Saudi player bending down to tie his shoelace during the silence.
The Saudi federation statement said it “deeply regrets and unreservedly apologises for any offence caused”.
— الاتحاد السعودي لكرة القدم (@saudiFF) June 8, 2017
“The players did not intend any disrespect to the memories of the victims or to cause upset to their families, friends or any individual affected by the atrocity.”
Australia won the match 3-2 to move level on points with Saudi Arabia and Japan at the top of the qualifying group with two games remaining.
Football Federation Australia said the Saudi team management knew about the plan to hold a minute’s silence before the match and had indicated that the players would not participate.
“Both the (Asian Football Confederation) and the Saudi team agreed that the minute of silence could be held,” the FFA said in a statement.
Senior Australian Labour politician Anthony Albanese described it as “a disgraceful lack of respect”.
Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull said: “The whole world, the whole free world, is united in condemnation of that terrorist attack and terrorism generally.
“Everybody, everyone should be united in condemnation with the terrorists, and love and sympathy and respect for the victims and their families.”