In the past, UEFA has had a solid track record at holding major finals in different stadiums across Europe.
Not only is the venue a neutral one at that, not handing any advantages to either side. But it gives great publicity to some cities that don’t usually get to see football of that calibre.
Cardiff and Lisbon spring to mind as two of the most recent cities that fit this bill.
Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan seems to also be in that boat. But when you look a bit closer, it isn’t as it appears.
It will host the 2018/19 Europa League final between English superpowers, Arsenal and Chelsea. Both sides are strongly supported across the globe, meaning that tickets to the game will be hotly contested, right?
Arsenal and Chelsea have only been allocated 6000 seats each in the Baku Olympic stadium, which has a capacity for nearly 70000 people. Seems ridiculous right?
That’s just the tip of the iceberg.
The rest of the seats will be given to corporate members and UEFA partners. You can make up your own minds as to why that’s the case.
It’s a blight on UEFA for not only choosing to do this, but to do it at the expense of those who make the game so unanimously loved across the globe.
Furthermore, flights to Azerbaijan for anyone wanting to go to the game and cheer their team are stupidly expensive.
Some flights are in excess of 1,000 British Pounds (that’s 2,000 AUD) and require multiple stopovers. If you think back to last September when West Coast fans were ripped off by the airlines on their way to Melbourne for the AFL Grand Final, it’s like that.
But on some serious steroids.
“Win 3 flight and accommodation packages for the UEL Final in Baku” would mean more to supporters.
It’s not the £26 tickets we’re having trouble with, it’s the lengthy £1,000+ travel. https://t.co/Bx8WbkUgf5
— Dan Critchlow (@afcDW) May 20, 2019
And as if it couldn’t get any worse, it has.
With Arsenal making the final, Armenian playmaker Henrikh Mkhitaryan would be in contention to either start or come on as a substitute. He’s been a serviceable player this season for the Gunners and would offer them great flexibility on the day, either on a wing or as a central midfielder.
But due to political tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan, it’s a 50/50 chance that Mkhitaryan makes it to Baku.
Now whilst it’s easy to say UEFA couldn’t have done anything about this, truth be told, they could’ve prevented this.
Simply don’t hold the final in a country where there are political tensions of any sort. As Thanos once said, “it’s a simply calculus”.
Stories from fans about Baku so disheartening. Armenian Arsenal fans can’t go, fans who haven’t missed a final in 30 years can’t go because flights cost more than a season ticket. Those who can afford it, staying at home because their mates can’t go.
— Charles Watts (@charles_watts) May 16, 2019
In a day and age where society thrives on inclusion for all people regardless of race, gender or anything else, it’s a damn shame that UEFA and the sport of soccer have come to this.
For everything they’ve stood to stamp out, this farcical situation which is overshadowing what should be a great final seems to be a step in the wrong direction.
It’s not as big of a mistake as the decision to host the 1985 Champions League final in Belgium’s Heysel Stadium, but it’s certainly a mistake that most football fans and UEFA will want to forget in a hurry.
Let’s hope that lessons can be learnt from this.