The decision to withdraw Henrikh Mkhitaryan from the Arsenal squad to face Chelsea in the Europa League final being held in Baku, Azerbaijan, because the player’s safety cannot be guaranteed has resulted in a huge amount of anger aimed at Europe’s football governing body UEFA, but they have not taken the criticism lying down.
UEFA released a terse statement basically rejecting the accusations being laid at their door.
‘Working alongside Arsenal FC, UEFA sought and received assurances regarding the player’s safety in Azerbaijan from the highest authorities in the country.
‘As a result of these guarantees, a comprehensive security plan was developed and given to the club. ‘While the club acknowledges the efforts that UEFA and the Azeri government have gone to in this matter, we respect the personal decision not to travel with the player.’
So, they are basically saying that Arsenal received all the assurances they demanded and that Mkhitaryan would have been safe, in better words they are saying that Arsenal football club are misleading the public, that is how I read it.
Then the Azerbaijan football federation (AFFA) backed up UEFA with their own statement
“We are disappointed to see the statement from Arsenal that Henrikh Mkhitaryan will not be travelling with his team to Baku to participate at the UEFA Europa League final against Chelsea next Wednesday.
We very much regret this unwarranted decision taken, as we understand, collectively by Arsenal, the player and his family.
Whilst we recognise the right to make a personal decision not to travel, we would like to reiterate that as the host country Azerbaijan has provided all the necessary guarantees required by UEFA to ensure the personal safety of Mr Mkhitaryan.
There is no reason whatsoever to put in question the seriousness of these guarantees provided by Azerbaijan. Over the past decade a large number of Armenian athletes have taken part in various international sports events in Azerbaijan without any issues.
Finally, we believe that this regretful decision will not affect in any manner the quality and the attraction of this great match. We look forward to welcoming both teams in Baku shortly.”
I love their use of the word unwarranted, which I shall come back to shortly.
But basically, as the UEFA statement clearly indicates, they are calling Arsenal liars, there is no other way to read it, they are saying that Mkhitaryan is safe, end of the story.
But there is one small tiny little problem for UEFA and the Azerbaijan football federation and that is called Amnesty International.
Now, remember that word unwarranted?
Read this statement from Amnesty and then ask yourself, is Arsenal fears for their players’ safety unwarranted.
“Fans will be glued to their TVs during this game, but we must ensure that Azerbaijan isn’t allowed to ‘sportswash’ its appalling human rights record as a result of the football fanfare.
“Azerbaijan is in the grip of a sinister human rights crackdown, with journalists, bloggers and human rights defenders being ruthlessly targeted. Unfair trials and smear campaigns remain commonplace.
“LGBT people have been arrested, and even people fleeing the country have been harassed and pressured to return.
“Fans, players and backroom staff can help prevent Azerbaijan’s likely attempt to sportswash its image by informing themselves about the human rights situation behind the glitzy facade of Wednesday’s match.
Wow, I have to say that the word “sinister” trumps the word “unwarranted” when you read that.
UEFA and AFFA can try and take the moral high ground all they want but they know, we know, Arsenal football club knows that Mkhitaryan’s safety could never ever be guaranteed in that country and Amnesty International absolute damning statement tells us exactly why.
It is a brutal regime with a horrendous human rights record and that is who UEFA chose to host a Europa Cup final and they have the cheek to call out Arsenal for doing the right thing by their player.
Those pathetic statements from UEFA and AFFA basically calling Arsenal liars have been truly smashed by the eye-opening statement from Amnesty.