Berlin (AFP) – UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has defended the decision to host the Europa League final in Baku in an interview with German news magazine Der Spiegel to be published on Saturday.
Chelsea and Arsenal are set to play in Baku on May 29, and UEFA has faced heavy criticism, both for the distance of the venue from London and over Azerbaijan’s record on human rights.
Ceferin, 51, told Der Spiegel that the human rights situation in Azerbaijan was a “problem”, but that this was true of other European nations as well.
The controversy over Baku increased this week, when Arsenal’s Armenian midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan decided not travel to the final amid concerns for his safety.
The UEFA president said that the decision was Mkhitaryan’s to make, and drew a parallel with the decision to host Euro 2016 in France.
“If football allows itself to be stopped by such tensions, then we will not be able to organise anything in future,” said Ceferin.
“We managed to organise a safe European Championships in France when the country was a target of terrorist attacks.”
Ceferin also said that he was in no rush to reform the UEFA Champions League.
“If you ask me, there is no need to change anything,” he said.
The 51-year-old said that UEFA were in discussions over reforms proposed earlier this year by the European Club Association.
The proposals envisaged a restructuring of all European club competitions into a three-tiered system with internal relegation and promotion from 2024.
Ceferin said that UEFA had already vetoed a suggestion to hold Champions League games at the weekend, saying that “this will not happen”.