“Everyone should be able to enjoy football. No matter who you are, where you’re from or how you play”. That’s the mantra of UEFA’s Equal Game campaign. They might need to look at that again.
Arsenal player Henrikh Mkhitaryan has made the difficult decision not to travel to the Europa League Final over fears for his wellbeing. The Armenia international’s safety was a concern due to the ongoing dispute between his country and host nation Azerbaijan. “Having considered all current options, we had to take the tough decision for me not to travel with the squad to the Europa League final. It’s the kind of game that doesn’t come along very often and I admit, it hurts a lot to miss it.” said Mkhitaryan. Such a despicable way to treat player and football fans have rightly been disgusted.
Basically Mkhitaryan is having to miss a major European final because of his race. Wow, just wow. When UEFA cant stoop any lower they do. They’d chosen profit over the safety of one of their players.
Finals do not roll around every season and are the highlights of a players career. Mkhitaryan turned 30 this year and who knows if he may win another major honour let alone play in a final. He may even miss the opportunity to say goodbye, as rumours circulate that he may even leave the club.
Mkhitaryan was a vital player when Manchester United won the competition in 2017 starting in the final, scoring the vital second goal and being named in the UEFA Europa League Squad of the Season. His absence is a bitter blow to Arsenal, already without Aaron Ramsey through injury. Mkhitaryan would have likely started the final having made 11 appearances out Arsenals 14 games in the competition and also scored and assisted against Chelsea earlier in the season. It’s such a terrible shame that a talented player like Mkhitaryan will now miss one of the biggest games of his life.
Political relations aside, Baku was a joke of a destination in the first place. Severe travel issues and dismal ticketing allocations made hosting the final a nightmare for Arsenal and Chelsea fans with Chelsea yet to sell-out their allocation. Anyone could have told you that Baku was a terrible idea, even before Europa League was under way.
If the players aren’t safe should the game go ahead at all? Any talk of safety concerns should immediately call for a game to be moved. No Arsenal or Chelsea fan should feel safe if Mkhitaryan doesn’t. Should fans even bother travelling to a country in such political unrest that a player, surrounded by police escorts, bodyguards and security teams, doesn’t feel safe?
Baku should be stripped of the final and an alternative stadium found, possibly even delaying the final. It won’t though. Because why make in-roads into the serious issue of racism and equal inclusion when you can just pay lip service and do the bare minimum?
When Arsenal qualified for the final and it became apparent that Mkhitaryan would play in Azerbaijan, UEFA had a real opportunity to move the final and settle this difficult issue. It was a chance they spooned well over the bar. By doing nothing, they are part of the problem.