Spectators were able to enter this week’s UEFA Europa League final for free after the authorities in Baku, embarrassed by the sight of empty seats, ordered the turnstiles to be opened, it has emerged.
The Times newspaper said that the order led to the turnstiles being opened during the first half of Wednesday night’s match, which saw Chelsea beat English Premier League rival Arsenal 4-1. It is unclear how many extra spectators were allowed to enter the Baku Olympic Stadium.
The report added that the decision had been taken without the authorisation of UEFA, football’s European governing body.
A UEFA spokesperson confirmed to TheTicketingBusiness.com today (Friday) that the organisation was continuing to explore the matter before offering a comment on the issue.
A total of only 12,000 tickets were allocated to Chelsea and Arsenal fans, with about half being returned due to a range of problems, including the travelling distance to the game and associated costs.
As reported by TheTicketingBusiness.com earlier this month, UEFA’s sponsors also returned a large proportion of the total of 2,000 tickets they were allocated for the fixture in Azerbaijan’s capital city.
An official attendance of 51,370 was recorded, more than 10,000 below the capacity of 62,000 that had been set for the game. The stadium itself can hold close to 70,000 spectators.
Azerbaijan Football Association general secretary Elkhan Mammadov told the Daily Mail that most of the empty seats were due to Eintracht Frankfurt fans buying tickets for the match before the team’s semi-final defeat by Chelsea.
“We are very positive about the number of foreign tourists not only from London but international supporters of Arsenal and Chelsea travelling to Baku,” he said. “We are not at all disappointed that it wasn’t sold out.”
Commentators, reporters, fans and former players were among those to voice their concerns about the empty seats for such a major fixture.
Image: Baku Olympic Stadium