Europa League final: Azerbaijan fans 'have to get chance' to see Chelsea v Arsenal

Azad Rahimov
Azad Rahimov is Azerbaijan's minister for youth and sports
Europa League final: Chelsea v Arsenal
Venue: Olympic Stadium, Baku Date: 29 May 2019 Kick-off: 20:00 BST
Coverage: Live commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live; live text commentary on BBC Sport website and app.

Hosting the Europa League final is a "real challenge" for Azerbaijan, says the country's sports minister.

But Azad Rahimov believes the nation's fans cannot be "left without live football", echoing the words of Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin.

Chelsea and Arsenal contest the final on Wednesday (20:00 BST).

"Baku is the longest flight in Europe but we have to give a chance to our fans to see this fantastic match," Rahimov told BBC Sport.

"I totally agree with the president of Uefa when he said because of the distance we cannot leave Azerbaijan football fans without live football.

"That's a strategy, a policy of Uefa, and also Fifa, to bring football to all countries."

London-based fans of the Premier League clubs will travel more than 2,468 miles to Baku's Olympic Stadium - chosen to host the final in 2017 - despite their own stadiums being just seven miles apart in the English capital.

Uefa has been criticised for its ticket allocation as Arsenal and Chelsea fans will share just 12,000 of 68,700 seats in the stadium. The teams' fans have also faced elevated prices for flights and hotel rooms.

"The problem for the fans is the cost of the (flight) ticket." said Rahimov. "For Baku it was more than £900; that's really difficult for the fans.

"It's the distance. It's not the chance for airline companies to earn more money.

"What can we do? We're located in that part of Europe - we cannot change Baku to somewhere in the middle."

Azerbaijan will host four matches during Euro 2020 next year, and Rahimov said preparations had been helped by the Europa League final.

"You can't imagine the efforts of the government to have this coming to Baku," he said. "We even calculated the time it takes in the airport to pass the border and customs.

"It's a real challenge. It's good practice for us and a good experience. We did a lot to make the transportation system very easy; the hotels are ready for the fans.

"21,500 other tickets have been sold all over Europe and even the world so the atmosphere will be very nice, exciting and emotional."

'No safety problem for Mkhitaryan'

Henrikh Mkhitaryan
Mkhitarya said missing the Europa League final "hurts a lot"

Last week, Arsenal midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan announced he would not play in the Europa League final. It is understood the Armenian, 30, feared for his safety on the pitch in Baku.

As a result of political tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia, Mkhitaryan has missed club matches played in Azerbaijan in the past.

It comes despite Armenian athletes competing at the European Games in Baku in 2015 and other sports events held in the country.

"That's why I don't understand the reason why that person (Mkhitaryan) said no," said Rahimov.

"Maybe it was some pressure from neighbouring countries, but I really don't understand why the situation changed.

"Before it was so easy. We agreed with Armenia that any sportsman, through a letter from the minister of sport, had the guarantee of security.

"We started to exchange these letters and everything was going very smoothly, but now I don't know what has changed with the new government of Armenia, or if it's just the decision of this person himself or his family.

"There is no problem of the guarantees."

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