soccer football
Soccer Football - Australia v Saudi Arabia - World Cup 2018 Qualifiers - Adelaide Oval, Adelaide, Australia - 08/06/2017 The Australian team stand together as they observe a minute's silence for victims of the London attacks, in which two Australians died. Reuters/David Gray

Saudi Arabian Football Federation has apologised after its team did not observe one minute of silence to honour the victims of the London terrorist attack. The Saudi players were up against the Australian team in Adelaide on Thursday.

The Arab state’s players were criticised when they failed to observe the one minute’s silence. While the Australian players lined up with their arms on their teammates’ shoulders, their opponents moved to their positions, with some milling about on the field. Saudi captain Osama Hawsawi appeared to call for the team to stand still. However, once the one minute has passed, Hawsawi was the only Saudi player not standing still, the ABC reports.

Their behaviour was quickly criticised by the media, politicians and viewers, who called the players “disrespectful.” Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce even said the Saudi government would reprimand the team. Senator Cory Bernardi called their failure to stand still “just disgraceful,” adding that their action proved why “Western culture is superior to Islamic one,” he wrote on Twitter.

For their part, Saudi football officials have offered their apology for the incident, saying the players did not mean to disrespect the London attack victims, which included two Australians.

“The Saudi Arabian Football Federation 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 on 3 June 2017, prior to the World Cup Qualifying match against Australia in Adelaide,” the statement reads. “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.

“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.”

Cultural clash

It wasn’t disrespect, but perhaps cultural clash, according to Dr Joshua Roose, a political Islam expert at the Australian Catholic University. He explained to that Saudi Arabia follows a very conservative branch of Islam called Wahhabiism, which does not honour birthdays or deaths.

“Wahhabiism is a very puritanical form of Islam so honouring deaths within Wahhabi doctrine is considered ‘bidah’ or impermissible,” he said. Roose surmised that Saudi’s football federation had not received clearance from the government to observe the one minute of silence. And if they didn’t have clearance, they didn’t want to risk upsetting the Ministry of Religious Affairs.

A spokesman from the Football Federation Australia also told the publication that it sought agreement from the Saudi national team and the Asian Football Confederation to hold the one minute of silence. Both agreed that it could be held, but the Saudi team officials said that this tradition was not in keeping with their culture and therefore would just move to their side of the field and respect the custom while they take their own positions on the field.

The Socceroos won over Saudi Arabia 3-2 on Thursday in the World Cup qualifier. The three points allow Australia to be placed on equal top with Japan and Saudi.