Time in Yerevan: 11:07:36,   10 December

Arsenal’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan, a soccer star who can’t play due to…. SAFETY CONCERNS

Arsenal’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan, a soccer star who can’t play due to…. SAFETY CONCERNS

YEREVAN, MAY 22, ARMENPRESS. Politics and sports, two seemingly very distant things where the latter is understood to be above the former. However sometimes this formula just doesn’t work.

An English football club is unable to take its player to a foreign country for the Europa League final because of the midfielder’s nationality.  At first, sounds too bizarre to be true, right? But as simple as it may seem, it is a highly complex matter involving an ongoing conflict, politics and safety concerns.

UEFA refuses to give any further comment other than a previously issued statement regarding the situation around Armenian midfielder of Arsenal FC Henrikh Mkhitaryan having to miss the Europa League final against Chelsea in Baku, Azerbaijan due to safety concerns.

When the Gunners officially confirmed that they won’t be taking Mkhitaryan with them to Azerbaijan, the decision to hold the final in Baku caused uproar among numerous fans, sports commentators and analysts.

Commentators have even proposed Arsenal and Chelsea should together boycott the match.

One wonders what UEFA would do if theoretically the two clubs were to take the extreme measure of boycotting the final match. Taking into account the existing discontent and anger, is UEFA considering a possible change of location of the final match? ARMENPRESS contacted UEFA to find out, however the organization said they won’t be making any further comments, citing an earlier statement.

“We do not have any further comment to make besides the statement we issued yesterday regarding this topic”, UEFA told ARMENPRESS when asked to comment.

On May 21st, UEFA made the following statement: “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.”

Given the strong uproar and discontent among football fans and sports journalists, ARMENPRESS requested further comments from Arsenal and Chelsea, pending responses.

Even before Arsenal made the decision not to take Mkhitaryan, fans were already angered by the fact that only 12000 tickets have been allocated for Arsenal and Chelsea fans for the match that will take place in a 68,000-seat Baku stadium. Fans were also unhappy over high prices of Baku hotels, and some have already returned tickets and won’t be traveling to Azerbaijan.

In the wake of numerous calls from analysts to boycott the final, ARMENPRESS has requested Arsenal and Chelsea to provide their stances regarding a possible re-location of the event.

Although UEFA refuses to give further comments, it certainly will have to deal with a fiasco in the theoretical event of both finalists boycotting the match. A potential boycott from the clubs can’t be ruled out amid growing discontent among fans and sports commentators.

Azerbaijan bans the entry of Armenian citizens from entering its country due to the Nagorno Karabakh conflict.

Although Azerbaijan claims to have given security assurances to UEFA, these “assurances” were seemingly insufficient.

It's the second time this season that Arsenal has left the 30-year-old out of its squad for political reasons. During the group stages last year, Mkhitaryan didn't travel with the team to play against Qarabag.

By Shant Khlghatyan and Stepan Kocharyan

Edited and translated by Stepan Kocharyan 




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