Photos: how Baku got ready for the Europa League final
The final of the Europa League in Baku promises to boast a record number of spectators in the entire history of the league – the Baku stadium accommodates 65,000 people.
In Azerbaijan, many doubted that the city would cope with such an important and major sporting event. However, on May 29, there was no traffic collapse, and all guests were safely accommodated.
The UEFA Europa League Final 2018/19 will be held at the Olympic Stadium in Baku, where UK teams Chelsea and Arsenal will head off.
The game will begin at 23:00 Baku time.
The stadium is located away from the city center, and ticket holders will be able to reach it by special free buses. Also on this occasion, the metro will work until 04:00. Usually, it works until midnight.
What’s happening downtown?
Three fan zones have been created in the center of Baku – fenced-off areas with various entertainment, attractions and souvenirs for fans.
Two of them are for foreign fans (separately for Chelsea and Arsenal), and the third is for local fans of both teams. Several streets are partially blocked, but residents of the city do not much inconvenience.
Most importantly, the rumor that the entire city centre would be blocked off turned out to be false.
As a result, both locals and tourists are walking in the center. There is a noticeable increased police presence.
“Baku has never seen so many men in shorts,” said one city resident.
In Azerbaijani society, it is considered “improper” for men to wear shorts. Therefore, crowds of European tourists in shorts are perceived by many of the locals as exotic.
Disputes, claims and recriminations
The decision of UEFA to hold the final match in Baku has caused much controversy.
For example, the international human rights organization Amnesty International strongly opposed the games, saying that such major sporting events should not be held in a country where human rights are seriously violated.
Another scandal was provoked by the fact that Arsenal player, ethnic Armenian Henrikh Mkhitaryan, did not come to the final for safety reasons.
Azerbaijan and Armenia are in conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh and the publics of these countries are aggressively disposed towards each other. The security guarantees of the Azerbaijani side were not enough for Mkhitaryan or his team.
British fans of both teams were also unhappy – it seemed to them far and expensive to fly to Baku. The teams even returned a significant part of the tickets allocated to them to Azerbaijan, because they could not sell them.
But most dissatisfied is the Azerbaijani opposition.
Because of the heightened security measures, the authorities did not allow the opposition to hold festive processions in the centre in honor of Republic Day on 28 May. And even in the traditional gathering place of the opposition on the occasion of this holiday, in the village of Novkhani near Baku, the police detained four activists.