Amnesty International has criticised UEFA’s decision to hold the Europa League final in Azerbaijan, saying the country should not be allowed to “sportswash its appalling human rights record” by staging major events.
Arsenal and Chelsea will make the 3,000-mile journey on May 29, even though the two clubs are based just a few miles apart in London.
There has been considerable criticism of the venue, especially by Arsenal. Henrikh Mkhitaryan won’t be travelling because there are genuine fears for his safety on the pitch, due to political tensions between Azerbaijan and his country, Armenia.
Amnesty International claims that in recent years there has been a crackdown on freedom of expression in Azerbaijan, mass arrests and the manipulation of the country’s legal system.
In a statement, UK director Kate Allen said: “Fans will be glued to their TVs during this game, but we must ensure that Azerbaijan isn’t allowed to ‘sportswash’ its appalling human rights record as a result of the football fanfare.
“Azerbaijan is in the grip of a sinister human rights crackdown, with journalists, bloggers and human rights defenders being ruthlessly targeted. Unfair trials and smear campaigns remain commonplace.
“LGBT people have been arrested, and even people fleeing the country have been harassed and pressured to return.
“Fans, players and backroom staff can help prevent Azerbaijan’s likely attempt to sportswash its image by informing themselves about the human rights situation behind the glitzy facade of Wednesday’s match.
“All too often, governments are using high-profile sporting competitions to distract attention from repressive policies and human rights violations, to instead project an image of openness.
“This couldn’t be further from the truth with the current administration, and the Arsenal-Chelsea clash is just the latest reminder of this.”