Tag Archives: baku

Europa League Final: The “secret $2.9bn scheme” to deflect from Azerbaijan’s corruption & human right breaches

In April 2017, The Guardian reported that “Azerbaijan’s ruling elite operated a secret $2.9bn (£2.2bn) scheme to pay prominent Europeans through a network of opaque British companies.

Leaked data shows that the Azerbaijani leadership made more than 16,000 covert payments since 2012. Some of this money went to politicians, journalists and other officials as part of an international lobbying operation to deflect criticism of Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev, and to promote a positive image of his oil-rich country.”

5 months after the publication of this report, the Baku Olympic Stadium was selected as the venue by the UEFA Executive Committee.

As well as the Europa League Final, the Azerbaijan football association also bid to host the 2019 Champions League final.

In recent years, Azerbaijan was also selected to host the 2015 European Games (athletics), 2012 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup, 2011 AIBA World Boxing Championships, 2010 European Wrestling Championships, 2009 Rhythmic Gymnastics European Championships, 2014 European Taekwondo Championships, 2014 Rhythmic Gymnastics European Championships, and 2016 World Chess Olympiad.

In 2016 the country hosted its first Formula One Grand Prix.

One of the reported aims of the lobbying operation was to attract major events to Azerbaijan in an attempt to portray the country in a more “positive light” and deflect from various reports of election corruption and Human Rights abuse.

A report by an Amnesty International researcher in October 2015 stated that ‘Azerbaijan has been allowed to get away with unprecedented levels of repression and in the process almost wipe out its civil society’.

Amnesty’s 2015/16 annual report on the country stated ‘persecution of political dissent continued. Human rights organizations remained unable to resume their work.

Reprisals against independent journalists and activists persisted both in the country and abroad, while their family members also faced harassment and arrests.

International human rights monitors were barred and expelled from the country. Reports of torture and other ill-treatment persisted.’

According to Freedom House, in 2015 Azerbaijan authorities used spurious charges & investigations to shut down media organisations and detain several prominent journalists, bloggers, and freedom of expression advocates. Violence against journalists continued throughout the year.

Azerbaijan had the biggest number of journalists imprisoned in Europe and Central Asia in 2015, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, and is the 5th most censored country in the world, ahead of Iran and China.

It ranked 177th out of 196 countries for press freedom.

In 2018, President Aliyev was elected to a fourth term in a process that lacked genuine competition, amid evidence of electoral fraud and tight restrictions on the media and opposition.

The 2019 Freedom House report on Azerbaijan declared that ‘corruption is rampant, and following years of persecution, formal political opposition is weak. The regime has overseen an extensive crackdown on civil liberties in recent years, leaving little room for independent expression or activism.’

In April 2018 President Ilham Aliyev was elected to a fourth term in a process that lacked genuine competition, amid evidence of electoral fraud and tight restrictions on the media and opposition. At the time opposition leader Ilgar Mammadov in prison on politically motivated charges. He was released in August after 5 years in jail. However, other opposition figures faced arrest and imprisonment during the year.

The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) state that ‘terrorists are likely to try to carry out attacks in Azerbaijan. Attacks could be indiscriminate and against civilian targets, including places frequented by foreigners, such as international hotels, restaurants and pubs.’

They also advise to ‘keep well away from any large gatherings.’

In 2016, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILG) ranked Azerbaijan as the worst place in Europe to be LGBT, citing “a near total absence of legal protection” for LGBT individuals.

In September 2017, Azerbaijani police arrested dozens as part of a crackdown on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people

Despite human rights infringements, a lack of press freedom, a clear threat of terrorism and Azerbaijan being labelled as “not free”; the likes of UEFA, the IAAF and the FIA have all awarded Azerbaijan major events in recent years.

In 2015, Henrikh Mkhitaryan – then of Borussia Dortmund – did not travel for a Europa League tie as his safety could not be guaranteed following strained relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Earlier this season Mkhitaryan was once more left at home when Arsenal played Qarabag in Baku. In a statement, Arsenal said ‘acceptable guarantees (from UEFA) had not been received yet’ for Mkhitaryan’s safety.

It is unlikely that anyone with an Armenian passport, or dual British-Armenian nationality will be able to attend the final making a mockery of UEFAs “Football for Everyone” slogan.

Despite knowledge that an international captain would potentially be excluded from the final based on the country he represents, UEFA still gave the final to Baku and Azerbaijan.

UEFA gave the country the Europa League final despite knowing that its airport and infrastructure was unsuitable for huge numbers of travellers entering in a short period of time.

Baku is served by Heydar Aliyev International Airport. In 2018, approximately 6,000 passengers a day used the airport to enter Azerbaijan.

In a statement following the announcement that Arsenal and Chelsea would only receive 6,000 tickets each, UEFA admitted that more 15,000 flying into Baku was “not a reasonable option” and travelling fans would not “be able to arrange suitable travel to reach Baku.”

In 2015, an International Civil Aviation Organisation audit of aviation safety oversight found that the level of implementation of the critical elements of safety oversight in Azerbaijan was below the global average.

With such poor infrastructure and a history of exclusion, Arsenal are right to question how UEFA awarded the final to Baku over Seville in Spain.

Azerbaijan is a country riddled by corruption with a history of human rights breaches and where there is no press freedom.

$2.9bn has been spent lobbying politicians, officials and journalists throughout Europe. Since this state supported operation began, Azerbaijan has won numerous major sporting events, including athletics, motor racing and football. All to deflect attention away from their problems in an attempt to show the country in a more positive light.

In 2015, FIFA faced a corruption scandal following bidding processes behind the awarding of the 2018 FIFA World Cup to Russia and the 2022 FIFA World Cup to Qatar. In November 2014.

The question needs to be asked: What was the reason UEFA awarded the 2019 Europa League final to Baku?


Baku Flights & Arsenal Big Screening

Morning all.

What beautiful weather today. Proper cricket weather. Bright sunshine – unlike Wednesday at the Oval where I got to see just 19 overs of play.

Today is the last game of the season and there is still plenty of play for.

If The Arsenal win by loads and Tottenham lose by loads; Arsenal are 4th. It is not going to happen.

Our form in the last month has seen collapse out of top 4 contention. Even just a single point against Everton, Wolves, Crystal Palace or Leicester would see us having a glimmer of hope today. Had we won 1 of those games it would be in our hands.

The only silver lining is at least when we finish 3 points behind Tottenham, idiots on Twitter will not be abusing Aubameyang for THAT penalty miss.

There has been plenty of talk over the last few days about ticket allocations for the Europa League Final.

Whilst 6,000 is a disgrace on paper; I would actually be surprised if that many travel from London in 2 weeks time.

The real crime here is playing the game in Baku – an incredibly hard place to get to from most of Europe.

UEFA announced that the reasoning behind so few tickets was because Baku does not have the infrastructure – hotels, flights – to accommodate more people. Maybe they should have thought about that before handing them the game over Seville and Istanbul.

You have to wonder if some money has changed hands somewhere for Baku to end up the Europa League final.

I am not going.

Guaranteed a ticket, I do not see a logistically sensible way to get there.

3 flights over 15 hours is of no interest to me. I would rather save my £1,000+ for a couple extra Euro aways next season – or finance Cape Town for some cricket.

Reality is most of us are spread thing financially.

Whilst football is important, there are other life experiences that take up money. Whether it is going on holiday with the other half, getting an extension done, going cricket, or one of the many other things money can be spent on.

It is now shame to say “I can’t afford it” or “I just don’t want to spend £1,000”.

When you follow Arsenal up and down the country, it is a huge cost – I estimated I spend £5,000 a couple of years ago on tickets, trains and beer. Sometimes you just have to say no.

For many of those moaning about ticket allocation, I have a simple question: Are you going to Burnley?

Chances are you are not. How about do some domestic aways before moaning about final ticket allocations for a game you probably wouldn’t go to if there were 40,000 tickets available.

We move on.

I have seen a few people say that it is a disgrace that Arsenal will not screen the game at the Emirates. There is a simple reason.

Construction at the ground began just after the last home game of the season on May 5th. The final is on May 29th. It would have been impossible to delay the work for 24 days and have it completed before the beginning of next season.

Arsenal could have applied to play a couple of games away from home next year, but that would not have resolved contractual agreements with the builders.

They would have known for months that work was to start within the last week. They would have scheduled their work force, ordered in materials, etc. Arsenal would have been breaking contractual agreements if, on Friday, they told the contractors that they were unable to start work for another 2 weeks.

Materials would have to be stored, men put out of work. It would have cost thousands.

You would have had builders who would be looking to pay for summer holidays based on the work they will get over the next 2 or 3 weeks. Delay to the start would have meant no money for them.

Sometimes we forget that there is a world beyond football.

I have seen some call for a big screening at Finsbury Park.

This could be a very good option. I am just unsure if the club could get it organised in time.

It is a big operation setting up Finsbury Park for Wireless. It is something that takes a few weeks, not a few days.

They need to erect the stage, big screens, toilets, beer marquees. They need to fence the site off and recruit the stewards. Need to get council sign off and sell tickets. It would not be an easy operation.

It is a good idea, but a logistical nightmare and probably a pipe dream.

Closer to the game we will collate the pubs in the area, who is showing it, how much tickets are, etc.

Until then, enjoy the sunshine.



JW Diaries: A long trip to Baku takes its toll

It seems a lifetime ago that we had to overcome another inept refereeing performance against a confident Watford team who were resolute and outplayed us for large spells; a couple of inspired substitutions saw us win late on 2-0.

It’s good to see our triple training sessions paying off.

After another Sunday off due to a reoccurring cold, late Tuesday I checked in to Heathrow terminal 4 for an overnight flight to Baku, Azerbaijan.

Meeting fellow Gooners at the airport pub, around 35 of us were on the 5 1/2 hour flight which saw us land around 6.30am.

After dropping bags at the hotel, we completed the sightseeing before a liquid lunch and checking in at 1pm.

Following a couple of hours sleep, we hit a local bar at Fountain Square followed by a fantastic Azerbaijan meal with wine that came to about £20 a head!

After another bar, I left early at 10pm to catch up on my sleep, only to be woken at 6am by my room mate crashing home worse for wear.

Matchday saw us at The Red Lion along with 50% of the English gooner contingent, then moving on to a bar near the stadium well before kick-off.

I thought we played well with the team we put out and deserved our win. We were let straight out after the match, celebrating our win until gone 4am.

On the Friday we were all planning on doing a sightseeing trip which I ended up blowing out! I spent most of the day in my room only venturing out for a brief walk and some food.

By 8pm I was back in the pub with around 20 other Gooners where once again we took over the bar as well as the laptop playing the music we wanted until the very early hours of Saturday – I was reliably informed that I got in at 6am!

As we had an evening flight, we met up once again at the usual bar until they got us taxis to the airport. The good thing about going to the same place is that we convinced the owner that if we get to the Final, this will be an Arsenal fans only bar.

If we do get to the Europa League Final, Baku is the perfect location for it.

Arriving home at 11pm, I was up at 6.30am for a trip to Fulham which, due to being tired, I was extremely close to blowing out. I’m so glad I didn’t; a wonderful 2nd half performance with well worked goals made up for my fatigue.

After I went straight home and for the first time in recent memory no alcohol passed my lips on a first team match day.

With the international break yet again upon us, there will no senior matches to be had during the week. There will be a few youth team games to fill my time, but with Lisbon only a few weeks away, I’m certainly glad of the rest.