UEFA defend Baku as Europa League final venue in open letter to Arsenal

By Andrew Warshaw

May 21 – Amid widespread condemnation of their decision to stage the all-English Europa League final in distant Azerbaijan, UEFA have defended their selection of the capital Baku saying all its member nations deserve a chance to host even though only a small part of the country actually lies within Europe.

UEFA has offered to work with Arsenal to help fans attend the game on May 29 and have apologised for the travel chaos surrounding the fixture, with no direct flights in the week of the game and only 12,000 tickets in total going to the two finalists.

UEFA have admitted they kept ticket allocations low since Baku’s airport cannot cope with more than 15,000 passengers in a day.

The only way to fly direct to Baku for the game would be to leave London on the previous Saturday four days before the game, an unprecedented scenario. Or to fly to Istanbul or Kiev and take an onward flight.

But in a response to an official complaint by Arsenal over holding the game in a city with such limited transport provisions, UEFA said it was only fair to spread their finals around and that it would be “utterly unfair to exclude certain venues just based on their decentralised geographical position”.

In an open letter response to Arsenal, UEFA explained: “Knowing your long experience in football and UEFA competitions, I am sure you can fully appreciate that the organisation of a final is a complex and lengthy operation.

“UEFA has committed to appoint hosts only via a fair and transparent bidding process, where the candidates have to provide evidence of their ability to stage the event on the basis of a number of criteria that are crucial to its successful delivery.

“The bidding process for a club competition final is generally held a couple of years in advance, meaning that the exact circumstances in which the final will have to be organised cannot be known at the time of the appointment.

“Mobility and accommodation are obviously key criteria falling under evaluation, with airport capacity being an important element.

“Experience from all previous finals tells us that the numbers may be very inconsistent from team to team and from final to final and that it is therefore not advisable to establish the tickets quota of the two finalist teams as a proportion of capacity rather than on statistically based realistic figures.”

UEFA said it was simply not possible in terms of planning to wait until the two finalists were known, or to switch venue late on.

“It would of course be ideal to postpone the entire ticketing process (including tickets for neutral public) until such moment when teams are known or closely predictable. Of course this is not possible due to the complexity of all ticketing operations and the need to draw up thorough and robust security plans.”

“It goes without saying that an all-English final played by two London teams was not a very predictable event at the time of the appointment. There is little doubt that this has added significant difficulties to the event logistics.

“We are really sorry for the problems that your (and Chelsea’s) fans are encountering trying to organise their journey to Baku.

“Our experts are keenly working on this matter with a view to help find cheaper solutions for travelling fans.”

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