Despite UEFA’s protestations that Henrikh Mkhitaryan would have been perfectly safe to travel to Baku to play in the Europa League final, the experience of Arsenal fans so far says otherwise.
Ever since Arsenal fans started arriving in Baku for the Europa League final against Chelsea on Wednesday night Twitter has been awash with reports of fans being stopped by police for wearing Mkhitaryan shirts.
These aren’t protest shirts or anything with a slogan that could be deemed insulting or even provocative. They are simply Arsenal shirts with his name on the back.
— Henry Winter (@henrywinter) May 29, 2019
VIDEO: Arsenal fans sporting ‘Henrikh Mkhitaryan’ Arsenal shirts are stopped by Azerbaijan police [@sntvstory].
— TheAFCnewsroom (@TheAFCnewsroom) May 28, 2019
UEFA insisted that Mkhitaryan would have perfectly safe in Azerbaijan.
Less than a week later: Arsenal fans can’t even walk down the streets in Baku whilst wearing Mkhitaryan shirts without being stopped by the police.
The planning of the final has been embarrassing.
— Patrick Timmons (@PatrickTimmons1) May 28, 2019
The entire thing has been a total disgrace. From UEFA greenlighting a final destination that was not accessible to all fans and players to issuing just 12,000 tickets to the fans of both finalists combined, the governing body have shown total contempt for the clubs and fans involved.
Arsenal players had, apparently, considered wearing shirts with the player’s name on the back as they warmed up before the game but UEFA confirmed to the Daily Mail that such a move is prohibited by ‘strict rules’.
All kits, including t-shirts worn before or after the game, must be approved by
the Stasi UEFA.
This fits with information that claimed Arsenal would face punishment if fans protested.
In truth, it all just adds to the farce.
While UEFA have rules in place to stop football being politicised, it is exactly that. Arsenal have a player not able to feature in this match because of international politics while Arsenal fans with Armenian heritage have been stopped from going to the game and disabled supporters have all but abandoned any attempts to travel to Azerbaijan.
You cannot exist in this world without politics becoming involved.
In addition, UEFA’s own report stated that Baku was not fit to host the Champions League or Europa League final, claiming that local university dormitories and campsites would be needed to house supporters.
UEFA made just 12,000 tickets available to Arsenal and Chelsea fans (and they couldn’t sell all of those) because they said the city’s infrastructure could not deal with any more than that. This seems like something they should have been aware of when they awarded the game to the city back in 2017.
Turns out they were.
They opted to move to Champions League final to Madrid, handing Baku the Europa League final instead because the fans of teams in that competition don’t matter as much apparently.
However, the same report warned that even a smaller Europa League final would be problematic for Baku.
Thankfully for UEFA, Arsenal and Chelsea’ inability to sell their full allocation due to the nightmare logistics of just getting to the country means that they should have enough hotel rooms for the three people who turn up.
Elsewhere, the Chelsea Supporters’ Trust has hit out at the club for not doing enough to help fans with the expense and logistics of travelling to the final.
UEFA knew exactly what they were doing when they handed the final to Baku. It wasn’t about ‘spreading the game’ as they claim, it was about sucking up to another oil-rich nation. It was given to a country on the far edge of the Caspian Sea for the same reason FIFA gave the World Cup to Qatar.
Football at the top level is no longer about the game or the fans, it’s about cold, hard cash.