UEFA say their ‘experts’ are working on finding cheaper solutions for travelling fans after admitting that two London sides playing the Europa League in Baku has caused logistical problems.
In a long-winded letter replying to a strongly-worded statement released by Arsenal yesterday, European football’s administrative body apologised for the situation but then somewhat laughably reaffirmed that ‘fans are a priority’.
The Gunners complained both about the paltry 6,000 ticket allocation and the fact that getting to the capital Azerbaijan is so difficult for supporters travelling from London.
We acknowledge your letter of 15 May.
I would like to give you a bit of depth with this reply. 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. The specificity of the UEFA Europa League final, when compared to the UEFA Champions League final, is the high volatility in the number of fans following the two finalist teams. 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. 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. We would welcome a joint effort with your club in this respect.
For UEFA fans are a priority. Football is for fans and all of them around Europe should have the chance to enjoy unique moments of top football such as only UEFA competitions can offer. Those matches are usually reserved to a limited number of countries whose clubs are particularly competitive but, when appropriate infrastructure exists and is built also in this perspective, it is fair and due not only to give also other fans the possibility of a unique live experience, but also to stage events which can greatly boost the promotion of football in an entire region. That’s why UEFA would consider utterly unfair to exclude certain venues just based on their decentralised geographical position.
I trust your understanding as men of sport and representatives of a club with a long and glorious tradition and solid sporting principles. I confirm our availability to work with you in order to find helpful solutions for your fans.
While we’re well aware of the importance of football being shared by all the different countries under UEFA’s umbrella, taking such a high-profile final to Baku was always going to cause difficulties on the travel front. It’s fucking miles away from everywhere, not just London, and very few countries on the continent have direct flights. They knew this and still deemed it appropriate. A half-hearted apology at this stage doesn’t solve anything.
We’ll be curious to see how many locals actually get their hands on tickets. We suspect the stadium will more likely be full of sponsor contacts…if it’s full at all. At this point, there’s no guarantee of that.
As for the future, it doesn’t look like UEFA is going to be more flexible should a similar situation arise in the future. Georgia’s capital Tbilisi is going up against Spain’s Seville for the 2021 Europa League tournament, Minsk, Helsinki and Kharkiv are vying with Belfast for 2021 Super Cup final while the Champions League could return to Russia if St Petersburg beat Munich to the gig.
Anyway, we wait to see what UEFA come up with on the travel front. We’re not holding our breath.