The Wealth and Poverty of Nations is a masterful exploration of political economy by the late Harvard professor David Landes. Very early into this 650 page text the author raises the issue of Eurocentrism - a worldview that is inherently biased towards Western civilization, or western Europe (depending on ones' definition).
At a recent event at the University of Oxford, UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin appeared to suggest that such Eurocentrism is alive and well in European football. The former Slovenian lawyer said the following about the recent Europa League Final stage in Baku, Azerbaijan:
"We decided a year and a half ago that we play in Baku, which has a modern stadium of 70,000. I think there is only one stadium in England that is bigger....If somebody asks me why we played in Baku, I would say: 'People live there. Homo sapiens live there...They had to watch the game at 11pm because of the time difference but nobody complained...If we have two Azerbaijani teams playing in London nobody would complain. They would come and play without any problems...We have to develop football everywhere not England, Germany only...[the] Europa League and everything else should be shared with the others who love football."
Ceferin's comment was largely motivated by the negativity surrounding the Final last month between Chelsea and Arsenal. Much of the commentary of the Final focused on the empty seats at the stadium and lack of atmosphere. Many questioned why fans had to travel so far to see their teams complete. A vivid example of Eurocentrism?
Although the 'big 5' have some of the largest populations in Europe, UEFA represents 55 full member associations . The association’s strategic plan from 2019-2024 has four pillars one of which aims to “Promote and develop football infrastructure across Europe”. Spreading the game is a mission that has been at the core of UEFA, and FIFA for that matter, for many years. This is why cities such as Baku get the chance to host major finals.
It was impossible to predict who would play in Baku, and the distance fans had to travel was probably accentuated by the fact that Chelsea and Arsenal are under 10 miles apart. Despite what people may now believe, this was not a poorly attended final. In fact, it is the 3rd best attended Europa League Final to date.
Countries on the periphery of Europe are just as entitled to hosts these games as the England, Germany or Spain. In fact, I recall not so long ago a country on the edge of Europe hosting the Europa League final. I was there when two Portugesse teams just 55 km apart, were forced to travel a round trip in excess of 2,700 km. The location? Dublin. I don't remember the Portuguese having any problems.
45,391 people showed up in the Aviva that night. There were 5,979 more in the Baku Olympic Stadium.