As the city of Baku, Azerbaijan is preparing to host the UEFA Europa League Final on May 29th. Representatives of the Football Supporters of Europe visited the city back in February to assess the preparations as well as the human rights situation, ticket allocation and visa application process for the event.

The FSE found that the Visa Application process, in which most athletes and fans visiting Baku would need to do in order to watch the final, included a mandatory disclosure of an individual’s HIV status. The presence of such a question reflects back on the fear and ignorance regarding HIV/AIDS and would have prevented people who are HIV positive from entering the country or potentially face prosecution if they are discovered to be HIV positive. The FSE believes this policy is in violation of the United Nations Generally Assembly’s Declaration on HIV and AIDS.

Azerbaijan has a poor record in regard to LGBTQI rights and freedoms and according to the European Region of International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association it is ranked at the bottom of all European countries in regard to LGBTQI inclusion. This is of importance for the Football Supporters of Europe as there has been a growing number of LGBTQI Fan Groups for European soccer teams and leagues, many of whom are expected to travel to Baku for the Final.

Following their assessment, the FSE reported their concerns to the United European Football Association (UEFA) who considered them serious enough to take action. UEFA passed the report onto the Azerbaijan organizing committee. On April 9th, Azerbaijani president, Ilham Alijev signed a decree that removing the HIV declaration from the official e-Visa application process. While FSE believes that some 3rd party organizations might still include the question, they encourage fans traveling to Azerbaijan to apply using the official channels for the visa.

While the FSE still has concerns regarding other aspects of human rights ahead of the Final, they commend the UEFA and Azerbaijan for taking swift action in addressing this concern and making it possible for people to travel regardless of their health status. It is a positive outcome and encouraging first step toward FSE working to help make Baku a safe environment for LGBTQI fans traveling for the Final.

By Dirk Smith