Charlie Flanagan criticises Uefa over Mkhitaryan issue

Minister for Justice said more must be done to ensure safety as Arsenal player skips final

Minister for Justice wants European football’s governing body to do more to allay safety concerns.

Minister for Justice wants European football’s governing body to do more to allay safety concerns.

 

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan has criticised European football’s governing body Uefa after safety concerns prompted Arsenal midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan not to travel to Baku for next week’s Europa League Final against Chelsea.

The Armenia international’s safety was a concern because of the dispute between his country and the host nation Azerbaijan. After discussions with his family, he decided it was too risky to travel.

When Arsenal played in Azerbaijan in the group stage he was omitted from the travelling party due to a conflict between the two countries over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.

The territorial and ethnic dispute has its roots in the early 20th century when Joseph Stalin made the majority-Armenian region an autonomous province in Soviet Azerbaijan.

The conflict escalated to full-scale war in the early 1990s after the Karabakh Armenians demanded the region be transferred to Armenia. The area is ruled by the self-declared Republic of Artsakh, which is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan.

Following Mkhitaryan’s decision to skip the European showpiece, a game Arsenal must win to secure qualification for next season’s lucrative Champions League, Mr Flanagan said on Twitter that more must be done to allay fears and ensure protection for players.

“Very sad when Sport & Politics collide as @HenrikhMkh decided against travelling to Azerbaijan for Euro League final citing safety fears,” he said. “UEFA must do more to allay fears & ensure protection in these circumstances.”

There are no diplomatic relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia, and Arsenal sought assurances from Uefa about Mkhitaryan’s safety in recent days. Uefa and the Azerbaijan FA insisted those assurances were given.

“We very much regret this unwarranted decision taken,” said a spokesman for the Azerbaijan FA.

“Whilst we recognise the right to make a personal decision not to travel, we would like to reiterate that as the host country Azerbaijan has provided all the necessary guarantees required by Uefa to ensure the personal safety of Mr Mkhitaryan.

“There is no reason whatsoever to put in question the seriousness of these guarantees provided by Azerbaijan.”