UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has defended the decision to host the Europa League final in Baku in an interview with German news magazine Der Spiegel published yesterday.
Chelsea and Arsenal are to play in Baku on May 29 and UEFA has faced heavy criticism for the distance of the venue from London and over Azerbaijan’s record on human rights.
Ceferin, 51, told Der Spiegel that the final would be played in Baku because “there are people who live there who love football.”
“The human rights situation is a problem, but it is also a problem in other European states. Does that mean the fans in Baku do not deserve live football?” he asked.
The controversy over Baku increased this week when Arsenal midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan, an Armenian, decided not travel to the final amid concerns for his safety.
Ceferin said that the decision was Mkhitaryan’s to make and that Azerbaijan had given guarantees about the player’s safety.
“If football allows itself to be stopped by such tensions, then we will not be able to organize anything in future,” Ceferin said. “We managed to organize a safe European Championships in France when the country was a target of terrorist attacks.”
Ceferin also said that he was in no rush to reform the UEFA Champions League.
“If you ask me, there is no need to change anything,” he said.
The 51-year-old said that UEFA were in a “consultation phase” over reforms proposed earlier this year by the European Club Association. The proposals envisaged a restructuring of all European club competitions into a three-tiered system with internal relegation and promotion from 2024.
Ceferin said that UEFA had already vetoed a suggestion to hold Champions League games on weekends, saying that “this will not happen.”
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