Michael Safi, The Guardian, June 9, 2017
Saudi Arabia’s national football team have been criticised for failing to observe a minute’s silence held before Thursday’s match against Australia in Adelaide.
The Socceroos lined up in the centre of the pitch before the World Cup qualifier and held the brief silence as a tribute to the two Australians killed in the terrorist attack in London at the weekend. As they did so, the Saudi Arabia team continued jogging, passing the ball between each other and taking their positions on the field. Pictures from the match show a single Saudi player, Salman al-Faraj, appearing to stand facing the Australia team with his hands behind his back.
Adam Peacock, a presenter with Fox Sports Australia, said on Twitter the Asian Football Confederation has approved the minute’s silence against the wishes of travelling Saudi officials. He said the Football Federation of Australia “tried to reason” with the Saudis but were unable to persuade them to participate in the tribute.
Sara Zelenak, 21, from Brisbane and the South Australian Kirsty Boden, 28, were killed in Saturday night’s terrorist attack. Zelenak was working in London as a nanny and Boden was a nurse, whose family said she died running “towards danger, in an effort to help people on the bridge”. Two other Australians were stabbed in the neck in the attack, which has been claimed by the terrorist group Islamic State.
The decision not to participate in the tribute was met with criticism on Twitter.
But that appeared to clash with other instances of Gulf countries holding minute’s silences, including to mark the death of the former Saudi King Abdullah.
Another image appeared to show a domestic Saudi team, al-Ahli Saudi FC, standing for a minute’s silence before a Qatar Airways Cup match against Barcelona in December 2016.
Australia went on to win the match 3-2, putting the country on track to qualify for the next World Cup in Russia in 2018.
On Friday the Saudi Arabian football federation made an “unreserved” apology.
“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,” it said in a statement.
“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.”