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What else is going on in Baku?

OPINION: Amnesty International warn that the Europa League final between Arsenal and Chelsea will see a ‘sportswashing’ of some of the uglier elements of life in Azerbaijan

23 May, 2019 — By Richard Osley

The Olympic Stadium in Azerbaijan will host the Europa League final

ISN’T it awful when a country with a questionable human rights record uses football to sort of help us forget about all the awkward, let’s call them, queries we might have about how the treatment of government critics, gay people, women and so on are treated. Oh no, he’s not banging on about how Manchester City’s bought their success and where their money comes from – and the wreckage we used to call the FA Cup final – is he?

Switcharoo!

No, this week, we are instead flying to Baku in Azerbaijan, where Amnesty International warns the Europa League final between Arsenal and Chelsea on Wednesday will see a “sportswashing” of some of the uglier elements of life there.

On Amnesty’s charts, Azerbaijan is the lowest-ranked country in Europe for human rights due to politically motivated arrests, the harassment of LGBT+ people and all the rest.

An obvious choice then for football’s governing bodies, who are taking the World Cup to Qatar after its stop in Russia. In 2012, the Eurovision Song Contest also ended up in Baku and there was pressure to talk about the country’s record of locking up people for simply criticising the government. In the main, Eurovision fans loved Eurovision so much that they partied on as usual – and said very little.

The event passed, nothing changed. Some say that Baku should be stripped of next week’s final, or it should be boycotted by us all. Arsenal fans love Arsenal as much as Eurovision fans love Eurovision so it’s unlikely people won’t watch.

Rather than sports­washing, however, the event could be used for the opposite, and some new focus on the abuses Amnesty fears the most. It just depends if Europe’s media is prepared to look beyond the stadium’s press room buffet next week.

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