The Football Supporters Europe (FSE) organisation has called on UEFA to address a host of concerns it has over the staging of the 2019 Europa League final in Baku, including the ticketing system in place for the game.
Earlier this month, FSE representatives visited the Azeri capital to assess the city’s preparations for the fixture, with a specific focus on the Olympic Stadium. In addition to the usual meetings with representatives of European football’s governing body and Azerbaijani officials, FSE also consulted local supporters’ groups, human rights activists, and journalists.
The final will take place at 11pm local time, which has already raised concerns, and while FSE conceded that Baku has a lot to offer visitors, it added that the game will take place in a “challenging environment”.
Along with concerns over the political environment in Azerbaijan, the country’s attitude to LGBT people, fans rights and visa requirements to enter the country, FSE picked out UEFA’s ticketing policy for the match.
UEFA this month ran a general ballot process for tickets which spanned March 7-21. Given the net stadium capacity of 64,000, a total amount of 37,500 tickets were made available to fans worldwide via UEFA.com with applicants to discover the status of their entries by April 5. Tickets were priced between €30 (£26/$34) and €140. Accessible tickets for disabled fans were set at €30, with 800 tickets also reserved for ‘youth packages’ set at €60 apiece.
The number of tickets reserved for supporters of the two finalists is yet to be determined, with the remaining tickets being allocated to the local organising committee, national associations, commercial partners and broadcasters, and to serve the corporate hospitality programme.
However, FSE claims the policy raises questions related to both the finalists’ allocation and the specific Azerbaijani context. With 37,500 tickets available to the general public, which represents an all-time record of 58% of the overall capacity, FSE fears that the number of tickets reserved for supporters of the two finalists will be exceptionally low.
FSE representative Martin Endemann said: “While we acknowledge that visiting Baku will require time and money, fans will travel no matter what. UEFA should take into consideration that it is the supporters of the finalists who are the most likely to travel to Azerbaijan, not the general public.”
Access to the country is limited to three international airports – Baku, Gandja and Qabala – which are mostly connected to Russia and Turkey. “Taking into consideration the high percentage of tickets made available for the general public and the difficulties to travel to Baku, it is FSE’s understanding that the organisers are relying on the local fans to fill the stadium,” Endemann added.
FSE said this could prove difficult considering the pricing, with Baku’s average monthly salary €220 and the nationwide minimum salary €70. FSE added in a statement: “In a country which often resorts to mobilising civil servants or forcing other groups to attend public events, this ticketing policy carries the risk of serious abuse.
“FSE is particularly worried about forced ticket sales, a phenomenon alleged to have occurred during the 2012 Eurovision song contest and the 2016 New Year’s Eve concert at the Olympic Stadium.
“In light of these challenges, FSE expect the Azerbaijani authorities to guarantee the safety and basic civil rights of all fans attending the final. Moreover, FSE hope that the UEL Final will draw attention to the difficulties outlined above.”
With the 2018-19 Europa League set to head into its quarter-final stage, two teams apiece from the English Premier League and Spanish LaLiga remain in the shape of Arsenal, Chelsea, Valencia and Villarreal.
Italian Serie A club Napoli, German Bundesliga outfit Eintracht Frankfurt, Portuguese Primeira Liga team Benfica and Czech First League club Slavia Prague have also made the quarter-finals.
Image: Baku Olympic Stadium