Azerbaijan says Mkhitaryan 'can play' in Europa League final
Azerbaijani authorities on Tuesday issued assurances that Arsenal's Armenian midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan can play in the Europa League final against Chelsea in Baku, dismissing fears over his safety due to tensions between the countries.
"In spite of the difficult relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia, Mkhitaryan can play in the Europa League final in Baku," Azerbaijan's foreign ministry spokeswoman, Leyla Abdullayeva, told AFP.
"Armenian sports figures have already taken part in numerous major sporting events that Azerbaijan has welcomed previously. One shouldn't mix up sport and politics," she said.
Earlier on Tuesday, Arsenal announced that Mkhitaryan, who is captain of Armenia's national squad, would miss the game next week in Baku amid safety fears.
The General Secretary of Azerbaijan's Association of Football Federations (AFFA), Elkhan Mamedov, said last week that "the Azerbaijani authorities have provided UEFA with guarantees of Mkhitaryan's safety".
"He wouldn't face any safety problems in Azerbaijan," he said.
Azerbaijan and Armenia are locked in a decades-long conflict over the disputed Nagorny Karabakh region.
Despite a 1994 ceasefire, frequent exchanges of fire along Karabakh's volatile frontline risk escalating into an all-out war.