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  • Armenian footballer Henrikh Mkhitaryan declined to play the Europa League final for Arsenal because it was being held in Baku, Azerbaijan

    Armenian footballer Henrikh Mkhitaryan declined to play the Europa League final for Arsenal because it was being held in Baku, Azerbaijan | Photo: Arsenal

Published 29 May 2019

Advocacy organizations have accused the UEFA of being complicit in the country’s “sportswashing” of Azerbaijan's human rights record, according to The Guardian.

The Europa League final between the Arsenal and Chelsea football clubs was held in Baku, Azerbaijan Wednesday with police reportedly harassing Arsenal fans related to the jersey of a player who skipped the game for political and safety conerns.

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Midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan, originally from Armenia, declined to attend the match, citing safety reasons related to the long-standing dispute between the two neighboring countries.

His fears of harassment were apparently realized with Sky News reporting on police spot checking Arsenal fans arriving at Baku’s Olympic stadium to make sure they were not wearing a jersey emblazoned with the player's Armenian surname.

Armenia and Azerbaijan fought a war in 1991 in which tens of thousands were killed, after the contested territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, recognized officially as part of Azerbaijan but which has a large ethnic Armenian population, declared independence. A ceasefire was brokered by Russia in 1994, but the Azeri government has been accused of engaging in a campaign against Armenian culture and those with Armenian last names.

For its part, the Azeri government has denied claims of discrimination and has pointed to past games where Armenians attended with no issues. It also said that "politics and football are separate."

Advocacy organizations have accused the UEFA of being complicit in the country’s “sportswashing” of Azerbaijan's human rights record, according to The Guardian.

Four more games have been organized by the UEFA in Azerbaijan for 2020, which it says it will not reconsider despite the criticism.

The final game ended with Chelsea beating Arsenal handily with a score of four to one.

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