Anti-Azerbaijani PR Campaign On The Rise As Baku Set To Host Europa League Final

Fuad Muxtarlı Review 14 May 2019
Anti-Azerbaijani PR Campaign On The Rise As Baku Set To Host Europa League Final

Millions of football fans from across the world, including English, notorious for their aggressive behaviors and picking frequent fights with fans of rival teams and the police before and after games, are looking forward to the Europa League final to be held on May 29 at the Baku Olympic Stadium. Two British football clubs - Chelsea and Arsenal - will play a final game some 4,000 km off their home town stadiums.

The Champions League and Europa League finals are considered the main football events of the year after the World and European championships and so will be this year. A special intrigue for the final match of Europa League is the fact that there are two English teams. Interest in this game is very high, and it is expected that thousands of English football fans, among others, will rush to Baku to see this sports festival.

However, what is happening on May 29 at the Baku Olympic Stadium will be interesting not only for football fans. Those who use every big international event in Baku for their black PR campaign against Azerbaijan have already started a similar scenario under various pretexts.

Against the backdrop of this sporting event, traditional anti-Azerbaijani circles in the West have already launched another campaign against the country. The tactics of its initiators and participants remain unchanged. As always, they try to shape the global public opinion through such an important event as Europa League final, claiming that its conduct in Azerbaijan is unacceptable.

So what are the arguments put forward by these forces and how they are trying to justify their campaign? Why, according to their logic, such events cannot be held in Baku?

One of the arguments, as usual, is human rights, the rule of law. These are the same arguments that are put forward ahead of each major sporting event in Baku. All arguments and theses are put forward with one goal - to blacken our country. However, every time Azerbaijan argued that the charges of total violations of human rights are groundless.

On the other hand, which country that hosted the Europa League final was perfect from a human rights point of view? Is the use of unjustified force by the police against the protesters in these countries so quickly forgotten? Anti-Azerbaijani circles may want to forget about it, but the Internet keeps many facts of human rights violations in Europe available for rechecking.

Another reproach to Azerbaijan is the alleged difficulty in obtaining an entry visa for foreigners. But here the spiteful critics obviously overdid it, since Azerbaijan is now one of the countries using a liberal visa regime. By order of President Ilham Aliyev, a simplified procedure for obtaining visas has been applied for several years, plus foreigners can receive electronic visas, and also apply for a visa at Heydar Aliyev International Airport within 20-30 minutes.

A statement that Baku hotels are “very expensive” looks even more absurd. Yes, in Baku there are a lot of expensive luxury five-star hotels in the downtown. However, there are a lot of quite comfortable hotels located 10-15 minutes’ walk from the city center, where prices are 20-30 dollars per room. That is, a wealthy football fan can settle in an expensive hotel in the city center, and those who want to save money can get settled in numerous budget shelters.

On the other hand, the anti-Azerbaijani forces went even further, saying that tickets for AZAL air carrier flights to Baku are very expensive and most of the fans cannot afford to purchase tickets at such prices.

In fact, AZAL flies to the UK and back in the lowest price range of world civil aviation. Prices for flights from London to Baku and back on AZAL luxury aircraft are lower than world prices. In order to verify this, just go to the websites that offer tickets online.

The previous attacks on Baku, even if they were groundless, still had at least some relevance. However, the story about the harm to the environment by The Guardian newspaper is the height of cynicism and biased criticism.

Planes going to the finals in Spain and Azerbaijan will emit 35,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide – climate activists want change. Campaigners say staging games between Liverpool and Tottenham in Madrid and Arsenal and Chelsea in Baku, in Azerbaijan, will trigger the release of thousands of tonnes of carbon dioxide from planes carrying supporters to the Champions League and Europa League finals. Packing thousands of fans on to flights is damaging to the environment. The 45,000 fans travelling to both finals will emit around 35,490 tonnes of carbon dioxide. It’s time UEFA did better, The Guardian says.

And finally, about Arsenal’s player Henrikh Mkhitaryan of Armenian origin and guarantees for his arrival in Azerbaijan. Recently, the British Daily Mail wrote that Mkhitaryan may not be allowed into Baku because of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. However, AFFA made a statement immediately, assuring that the security of Henrikh Mkhitaryan will be ensured and there are no obstacles for his arrival in Baku. This was followed by a statement by the Foreign Ministry, which provided guarantees for the safety of the Armenian football player and noted that UEFA had already been informed about this.

Azerbaijan never mixes international sports events with politics and, in particular, with the conflict with Armenia. No matter how difficult it is. Armenian athletes have repeatedly participated in competitions in Baku. President Ilham Aliyev even personally awarded Armenian athletes. No incidents with Armenian athletes in Baku were recorded.

Against the background of all these biased statements, the British Foreign Office intervened, which spread a very strange statement, warning British fans that “robberies are taking place in the center of the city, near western bars and clubs, near dimly lit private apartment entrances”.

Of course, in Baku, as well as in any other metropolis of the world, from time to time, various crimes occur. However, the statement of the British Foreign Office does not fit into any framework, because in recent years neither the bars, nor the pubs, in which foreigners like to rest in Baku, have seen any attacks of robbers on foreigners in recent years. So, why did the British Foreign Office issue such a strange warning? What is it based on?

On the other hand, Azerbaijan ranks among the safest countries in terms of stability and crime rate. So, in order to dissuade English fans from traveling to Baku, it makes no sense to use the safety factor. Azerbaijan has previously argued that it can organize any international event at the highest level, and always the safety of the participants and guests are high.

When the time and venue of the Europa League final was set, no one imagined that two English teams would meet in this final. Experience shows that the finalists conducted their matches thousands of kilometers away from their countries, and such accusations were never made and such smear campaigns were not conducted.

Brits are well aware that their fans, notorious for their passion for unrest, are not the most welcome guests in other countries. Despite this, on May 29, Azerbaijan is ready at the highest level to ensure the safety of all who come for the final.

Attempts to denigrate and slander our country only show that concerned foreign circles are anxious about the growing prestige of Azerbaijan in the world, its transformation into a major economic, political and humanitarian center.

The public of our country has repeatedly observed how foreign anti-Azerbaijani circles organized similar campaigns against Azerbaijan. Our country implements important energy and transport projects, holds global events: in 2012 - Eurovision, in 2015 - European games, in 2016 Islamic Solidarity Games, etc. And Azerbaijan has always become the target of black PR campaigns, but their organizers have never been able to achieve their goal.