BC-SOC--Europa League Final-Mkhitaryan,1st Ld-Writethru
BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry indicated Friday that Arsenal midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan can play in the Europa League final in Baku despite tension between Azerbaijan and his native Armenia.
Asked about Mkhitaryan, ministry spokeswoman Leyla Abdullayeva told The Associated Press that “many major sports events have been hosted in Azerbaijan, and Armenian athletes have taken part in them. Sports and politics are separate.”
Nagorno-Karabakh is a region of Azerbaijan which has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a war there ended in 1994.
Mkhitaryan did not travel with the Arsenal squad for a group-stage game in Azerbaijan earlier this season.
Arsenal has said it is seeking guarantees from UEFA that Mkhitaryan can travel for the May 29 final against Chelsea.
UEFA said Friday that it had received assurances from Azerbaijan’s soccer governing body, but didn’t mention a government commitment.
“Assurances were sought on this matter by UEFA and Arsenal FC, with the Azerbaijan Football Association confirming that there would be no problem for the player in question to enter and stay in Azerbaijan and that all necessary security measures would be in place,” UEFA said in emailed comments.′
It is the first time Azerbaijan has hosted a major tournament final, and it will also hold games at next year’s European Championships.
Azerbaijan’s national airline has told the AP measures will be in place to cope with a surge of passengers at the country’s main airport in Baku. Sports Minister Azad Rahimov said Friday that Baku was “completely ready” to host the game. Tickets for the fixture will double as entry visas for the country.