Girls to lead the stars out for UEFA Europa League final in Baku

The Association of Football Federations of Azerbaijan and FedEx Express are giving 22 local girls the chance to lead out the players ahead of next week's UEFA Europa League final in Baku.

Twenty-two girls from Azerbaijan will lead the players of Chelsea FC and Arsenal FC on to the pitch at the Olympic Stadium in Baku on 29 May, moments before the start of the UEFA Europa League final.

The initiative is run by FedEx Express, an official partner of the UEFA Europa League, while the girls have been chosen by the Association of Football Federations of Azerbaijan (AFFA).

22 girls will lead out Chelsea FC and Arsenal FC players at the UEFA Europa League final in Baku
22 girls will lead out Chelsea FC and Arsenal FC players at the UEFA Europa League final in Baku©UEFA.com

"Football offers many opportunities in terms of social integration and well-being, benefiting boys and girls alike," said Elkhan Mammadov, AFFA general secretary and a member of the board of the UEFA Foundation for Children.  

"For many of the girls enrolled in our programmes, playing football helps to break down barriers by fostering inclusion and equality. Having these young girls taking to the field with the players at the UEFA Europa League final will make them visible on an international stage, and I think the sense of pride will be almost palpable."

The governing body of football in Azerbaijan has been making great strides in recent years to ensure that as many girls as possible have the opportunity to play football in the country.

The Association of Football Federations of Azerbaijan is working to promote women's football in the country
The Association of Football Federations of Azerbaijan is working to promote women's football in the country©UEFA.com

AFFA is currently working with 35 schools which run football activities for children three times a week. The association's grassroots department has also established a number of initiatives specifically for girls, while coaches from Azerbaijan's national women's league are encouraged to participate in youth programmes. 

FedEx Express have been working to give local children the chance to lead players onto the pitch
FedEx Express have been working to give local children the chance to lead players onto the pitch©UEFA.com

"We've worked closely with the UEFA Foundation for Children to shape a long-term collaboration that maximises possibilities for young people through football," said Brenda McWilliams-Piatek, FedEx Express Europe's vice-president for marketing operations. 

"As a sponsor of the UEFA Europa League, we are delighted to be able to extend support for the work of the foundation, and the work of AFFA, by helping to make an all-girl group a reality in Baku."

Since becoming a sponsor of the UEFA Europa League in 2015, FedEx Express has worked closely with the UEFA Foundation for Children to give local children the chance to lead the players on to the pitch in the cities hosting the final.

"Together with FedEx Express, we have delivered multiple projects that – under the umbrella of children's rights – use football as a powerful tool to improve the lives of children," said Urs Kluser, general secretary of the UEFA Foundation for Children.

"By donating 'player escort' places to organisations such as AFFA, we are offering them a platform on which to showcase the tremendous headway they are making in involving young girls in football in Azerbaijan."

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