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All Europe is surprised because of Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s absence

9 days before the clash with Chelsea in the final of the Europa League 2018-19, Arsenal’s preparation process met with great obstacles. “We are disappointed to announce that Henrikh Mkhitaryan will not be able to join the team”, Arsenal announced.

Usually, a player just misses the final continent level desirable in his career because of a serious injury. But Mkhitaryan’s case is not related to luck in soccer. Arsenal must withdraw their star from the most important match of the season for no other reason than the place he was born, Armenia.

Controversial decision

Please forget about the costly and time-consuming journey that Arsenal and Chelsea fans will have to go through if you want to go to Baku (Azerbaijan) to support your favorite team. Please temporarily forget the frustration when UEFA only distributes 6,000 tickets to 2-team fans while the Olympic stadium can accommodate up to 69,870 people. The most controversial issue in the past days is the ability to attend the match of Mkhitaryan midfielder.

UEFA chose to host the 2018-19 Europa League final in a country where people with certain nationalities are not allowed to enter the territory.

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Armenia and Azerbaijan have experienced a long-lasting conflict. These two countries do not have diplomatic relations because of tensions related to the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Azerbaijan prohibits Armenian citizens from entering the territory. Even foreign nationals with Armenian blood are not allowed to enter Azerbaijan.

Mkhitaryan – a player with Armenian nationality, is among them. Mkhitaryan is also the captain of the Armenian National League. He even entered the “black list” of the Azerbaijan government because he visited an area occupied by the Azerbaijan army without permission, according to the ambassador of Azerbaijan in the United Kingdom, Tahir Taghizadeh.

In an interview with Sky Sports, Mr. Tahir Taghizadeh said Mkhitaryan’s safety would be guaranteed if the midfielder did not use the game as a political blow instead of sports. “His problem was visiting a military occupation area in Azerbaijan without permission from the Azerbaijan government. Consequently, he was on the blacklist of the government. The message I want to send to Mkhitaryan is: You are a football player, you want to play football. Go to Baku and you will be safe there. If you want to play, the story will be completely different”.

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The role of UEFA?

The complexity of the incident forced Arsenal to carefully discuss with Mkhitaryan and his family. After all, they decided not to take Mkhitaryan to Azerbaijan. Arsenal and Mkhitaryan all feel that the promise of ensuring safety for players from UEFA and the Football Association of Azerbaijan is not enough.

In essence, Arsenal and Mkhitaryan are not brave enough to risk the player’s safety. This is not the first time Arsenal have done so to protect Mkhitaryan when the team must play the match in Azerbaijan. But what about UEFA’s role in selecting a politically sensitive venue to host an event?

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UEFA’s core principle is respect, actively promoting inclusion and diversity in football: “Everyone has the right to enjoy football, no matter who you are, where you come from and how to play”. The choice of Baku shows that UEFA goes against this principle. It may even adversely affect UEFA’s campaigns on equality and anti-discrimination in the future.

Last year, the International Chess Federation (FIDE) had to replace the tournament venue after Saudi Arabia did not allow players from Israel to compete. UEFA for its own sake did not do so. Before the wave of fierce criticism from fans and Arsenal officials and players, UEFA only issued a statement expressing sympathy to Mkhitaryan and respecting the player’s decision.