In Brief

Saudi Arabia apologises over London terror victims tribute

Players from the Gulf state failed to observe a minute's silence before World Cup match in Australia

The Saudi Arabia football team has been heavily criticised for refusing to stand in silence before their World Cup qualifying match against Australia on Wednesday to honour the victims of Saturday's attack in London Bridge. 

The attack, carried out by three Islamic State terrorists, left eight people dead, including two Australians, and the Australian soccer federation [FFA] had notified their opponents that there would be a tribute to the victims. "Both the (Asian Football Confederation) and the Saudi team agreed that the minute of silence could be held," said the Australian federation.

However, Adam Peacock, a presenter with Fox Sports Australia, claimed in a tweet that the Asian Football Confederation approved the minute’s silence but "travelling Saudi officials said no. FFA tried to reason, no avail and went ahead." 

However, The Independent reports that not only did the Saudi players on the pitch "ignore the silence" but not even their substitutes rose from the bench to honour the dead.

Instead, says The Guardian, while the Australians stood in a line with their heads bowed, "the Saudi Arabia team continued jogging, passing the ball between each other and taking their positions on the field." Only one player, Salman al-Faraj, appeared to stand for the silence with his hands behind his back.

The disrespect shown by the Saudis incensed social media, as did several attempts by Saudis to excuse the incident on cultural differences between western and Islamic countries. This was given short shrift with photos published on twitter showing Gulf countries observing a minute’s silence on several occasions, including to mark the death of the former Saudi King Abdullah. In addition, stated the Guardian, a Saudi team, al-Ahli Saudi FC, stood for a minute’s silence before a Qatar Airways Cup match against Barcelona in December 2016.

According to an Australian imam, Sheikh Mohammad Tawhidi, the reason the Saudis didn't observe the silence was because "according to Wahhabi Islam - which governs Saudi Arabia - it is not wrong or a sin for a Muslim to kill a non-Muslim", reports the Daily Mail.

And universal condemnation of their footballers prompted a statement from the Saudi Arabian Football Federation, which said it "deeply regrets and unreservedly apologises for any offence caused by the failure of some members of the representative team of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to formally observe the one minute's silence in memory of the victims of the London terrorist attack".

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