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Euro Cup bid comes with political baggage

By Messenger Staff
Tuesday, March 13
During his recent visit to Baku, President Mikheil Saakashvili announced that Georgia and Azerbaijan are submitting a joint bid to host the European Football Championship in 2020. Understandably, this has prompted all sorts of commentary from citizens of both countries.

Most people seem to believe that the bid has almost no chance of being accepted, as in order to hold such an event, Georgia would need special infrastructure – large and modern football stadiums, luxury hotels, and so on. Some commentators suggest that if Georgian and Azerbaijan are chosen, then investors will appear to build what is necessary. Others believe that investments should be made in the welfare of the people, not enormous football stadiums.

There are also political undercurrents to the discussion. Nodar Natadze believes that Tbilisi deserves to hold the championship final match as it has always been the centre of the Caucasus. Hosting the European games is also a sign of the further independence of Georgia and Azerbaijan from Russian influence. Other people believe that the bid would have a greater chance of being accepted if Armenia is included; yet the poor relations between that country and its Azeri neighbours preclude such an arrangement.

There have been some ironic comments as well. Poet Davit Maghradze asks what Saakashvili’s plans are in 2060, implying that any planning the President does for 2020 is equally ludicrous, as he will be out of office.

Azeri commentators are not entirely positive either. There is a group in Baku who is seeking to promote the city as the host of the 2020 Olympic Summer Games, a much more significant event than the Euro Cup. Former Azeri footballer Kazbek Tuaev even said that “Georgia is a poor country and we do not need it. Azerbaijan can hold the championship alone”.

Sports can play an important role in global diplomacy, but so far the Georgia-Azerbaijan bid has only emphasized existing political divides.