Of all the controversies about the host city for the Europa League, the most serious issue is the safety of Henrikh Mikhitaryan. Nothing is more important then someone’s wellbeing, not how many tickets have been sold, not how many days it takes to get to Baku, not the fact that some fans might have to accept watching the final on television.
Azerbaijan and Armenia have had zero diplomatic relations since 1994. As the poster boy for Armenian sport our midfielder would be a huge safety risk for himself and the entire squad the moment he set foot in the country. It has led many to question how UEFA could even consider a nation hosting such a game if they cannot guarantee the safety of the players. The only sticky point is Azerbaijan have, whether you think it’s PR talk or not, given guarantees that the player would be safe to travel. If you believe that or not is another debate but officially there’s not much more UEFA can do then take them by their word.
Arsenal clearly didn’t believe in that statement back in October when for this very reason they left their playmaker back in London when visiting Qarabag. At the very least they didn’t feel the juice was worth the squeeze.
The same stance that Dortmund had in 2015 when they too decided not to seek international clearance to have him available for a fixture against Qabala.
On both occasions UEFA, like now, maintained he would get a Visa and would be safe to travel. Clearly behind the scenes, Arsenal and Dortmund were advised it’s more complex then that. Officially though, Azerbaijan are not discriminating anyone from taking part in this final which makes it hard for UEFA to step in. UEFA can’t change their minds on a venue based on political reasons as most countries in 2019 have disagreements with someone, not all cultures and beliefs are the same. How do you decide what is right/wrong ?
Remember there were MP’s in the UK who talked up the possibility of us boycotting the 2018 World Cup to spite Russia, in a move which had nothing to do with football. The World’s governing bodies want the world to all have access to sport. That might be motivated by money but if we get involved in a political debate then some places will never get to witness the beautiful game. Surely if we are arguing Baku can’t host the Europa League Final, it shouldn’t be a host city for Euro 2020? Then what do we do if another player is drawn to play in a country where his nation has issues with?
What about the next World Cup? Is it right that visiting fans can’t interact how they choose, due to human rights which might contradict their host’s beliefs? Once you get involved with others religions, politics, etc, it become dangerous. Sport was always about the opposite, about bringing all of us together. If we want to share the game with the world, we can’t lose sight of that.
Really interested in your thoughts gooners?