Europa League final: Baku stadium was opened to public halfway through Chelsea v Arsenal game

Large areas of empty seats inside the Olympic Stadium started to fill up long after kick-off as the turnstiles were opened to the public for free without Uefa’s consent

Jack de Menezes
Friday 31 May 2019 11:09
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Uefa have launched an investigation into why the turnstiles of Baku’s Olympic Stadium were opened halfway through the Europa League final between Chelsea and Arsenal to let fans in for free.

Vast areas of empty seats could be seen inside the Azerbaijan venue on Wednesday night where Chelsea beat their Premier League rivals 4-1 to claim a second Europa League titles.

But fans who made the journey to Baku to follow their team noticed that those areas started to fill up long after kick-off – which came around half past midnight local time.

Uefa claims that 51,370 supporters turned out for the Europa League final, some 10,000 short of the stadium’s reduced capacity for the final of 62,000 and 16,000 below the maximum capacity.

There was also criticism of the atmosphere inside the Olympic Stadium with fans a long way from the pitch and a lack of noise leading to plenty of criticism during the match, noticeably from television pundits Cesc Fabregas and Eidur Gudjohnsen, while fans reported hearing atmospheric noises being pumped out of the stadium’s tannoy.

However, Uefa are understood to be unhappy over the gates being opened once the game began to let fans in to fill up the stadium, with the Azerbaijan Football Association embarrassed by the small turnout and reportedly taking the action themselves without Uefa’s permission.

“We were in the Arsenal corner and there were a lot of empty seats and suddenly after about 30 minutes lots of local people arrived, including some kids, and they had been given Arsenal flags to wave,” one supporter told The Times.

It’s understood that Uefa are extremely unhappy with the decision being made without their knowledge and are investigation how the turnstiles were opened without their knowledge, leaving them powerless to prevent it.

The European governing body’s concern stems from the fact that Baku is die to host four matches at Euro 2020 next year, and it follows a fierce backlash against the final being staged in the Azerbaijan capital due to the fact that large numbers of supporters were unable to travel there due to extremely expensive travel prices and few direct flights.

Large empty areas of the Olympic Stadium during the Europa League final started to fill up during the match

On top of that, Arsenal midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan decided against travelling with the squad due to his safety fears as an Armenian in Azerbaijan, due to the ongoing political conflict between the two sides. Ahead of the game, Arsenal fans wearing Mkhitaryan shirts in Baku were seen being stopped by police.

Despite the concerns, Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin used Wednesday’s meeting of the executive committee to confirm that Baku would not be stripped of its four matches at the European Championship.

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