British fans say they do not not want to go to Baku
There are a number of issues flaring up before Baku hosts the Europa League football final on 29 May.
The most recent is Amnesty International’s statement to the effect that a country with a reputation of human rights violations should not able to hold large sporting events.
Another issue is the fact that Arsenal’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan will not be coming to Baku because of his Armenian origin.
Yet a third is the fact that issues have arisen with the sale of tickets to the game – that is, they aren’t being sold. British fans say Baku is too far away and too expensive.
More about these three issues below.
Amnesty International speaks out against the Baku games
“…we must ensure that Azerbaijan isn’t allowed to ‘sportswash’ its appalling human rights record as a result of the football fanfare”, said Amnesty International UK director Kate Allen, criticising the UEFA decision to hold the Europa League final in Baku.
Allen said that “governments often use large sporting events in order to distract attention from their repressive policies.”
This statement has given rise to a response of criticism in Azerbaijan directed at Amnesty International.
An MP from the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan [Az. New Azerbaijan], Javid Osmanov, called Amnesty International “a structure sullied in corruption, an instrument of certain circles [whose aim it is] to attack a country which abides by an independent policy.”
A party district chair, Hikmet Shikarov, says “the Armenian lobby stands behind all this, the diaspora and forces which do not like Azerbaijan and are jealous of its success.”
Amnesty International, like other human rights organizations, regularly criticizes Azerbaijan for violating human rights. Amnesty has also repeatedly demanded that the government release political prisoners.
In the recently published freedom of speech index compiled by the international organization Reporters Without Borders, Azerbaijan ranked 166 out of 179.
The final match of the UEFA Europa League will be held in Baku on May 29, during which time English football teams Chelsea and Arsenal will go head to head.
Who is to blame that Mkhitaryan won’t come to Baku?
Another issue at the heart of the pre-game tension is the fact that Arsenal’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan will not come to Baku.
Given there is a political conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, Mkhitaryan, despite the guarantees of the Azerbaijani side, decided not to go to Baku because of security concerns.
This has given rise to negative reactions both in Baku and abroad.
Many Arsenal fans have blamed Azerbaijan for Mkhitaryan’s decision not to come, with some claiming that the country has made for itself such an image that the Armenian footballer was afraid to come.
The Azerbaijani Football Federation says that Armenian athletes have already come to Azerbaijan on several occasions, and that they have not had issues in the past, which means “there is no reason to cast the sincerity of guarantees [given for Mkhitaryan’s safety] under doubt.”
The Azerbaijani Ministry of Foreign Affairs says that Armenia has politicised the situation, and that Armenia has “yet again demonstration that Armenia does not intend to prepare its people for peace.”
Unclaimed tickets and other grievances
In addition, Chelsea and Arsenal are going to return to Azerbaijan more than half of the tickets allocated to them for the final game, because they cannot sell them to fans: flying to Baku is long and expensive, it is difficult to get a visa, and the match starts at 23:00 local of time, sports.ru writes.