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Azerbaijan sports minister defends Europa League host

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Azad Rahimov understands how difficult is for English fans to travel to Baku, but he believes the challenge will be good for the football world.

The decision to chose Azerbaijan as this year’s UEFA Europa League host has been very controversial.

There are human rights violations that worry the world, while there’s a political crisis between the hosts and neighbor Armenia.

The city is geographically in Asia, which has made this the longest flight in Europa League history.

But for Azerbaijan’s sports minister Azad Rahimov, the country “cannot be left without live football.”

“Baku is the longest flight in Europe but we have to give a chance to our fans to see this fantastic match,” Rahimov told BBC Sport.

“I totally agree with the president of UEFA when he said because of the distance we cannot leave Azerbaijan football fans without live football.”

“That’s a strategy, a policy of UEFA, and also FIFA, to bring football to all countries,” he added.

“The problem for the fans is the cost of the (flight) ticket.”

“For Baku, it was more than £900; that’s really difficult for the fans,” he said.

“It’s the distance. It’s not the chance for airline companies to earn more money.”

“What can we do? We’re located in that part of Europe – we cannot change Baku to somewhere in the middle,” he continued.

“You can’t imagine the efforts of the government to have this coming to Baku.”

“We even calculated the time it takes in the airport to pass the border and customs,” he continued.

“It’s a real challenge. It’s good practice for us and a good experience. We did a lot to make the transportation system very easy; the hotels are ready for the fans.”