Peace at last in Azerbaijan

The crisis which has gripped football in Azerbaijan for a year appears to have finally been resolved.

The crisis which has gripped football in Azerbaijan for the past eleven months appears to have finally been resolved.

Eventual agreement
The Association of Football Federations of Azerbaijan (AFFA) has reached an agreement which will see the clubs, who had threatened a breakaway, participate in the national championship again. The dispute began after the match between FK Shafa and FK Khazar Universiteti on 2 April 2002. The fixture saw the AFFA-sponsored Shafa awarded a hotly-contested penalty that provoked outrage among Khazar officials.

Protracted dispute
The club announced their withdrawal from the league, and were soon joined by others, including FK Neftchi and FC Shamkir. As a result, the 2002 season was never finished and the current campaign is yet to get under way. Azeri clubs were also banned from all European competition in the 2002/03 season and FIFA prevented the national side from playing at home.

Much-delayed start
However, the championship is finally set to kick off on 22 March, although AFFA has still to approve the return of referees and club representatives it had previously banned. Yet Neftchi’s Mazahir Suleymanzade, speaking on behalf of all clubs, said all was not resolved: "Do not take this decision as [the] clubs bowing down to AFFA," he said. "The clubs will continue [to] oppose them, but will do so whilst playing football."

'A hard task'
The tone from AFFA was more conciliatory. "Restarting the league is a very important but hard task. It is great that clubs have agreed to start on 22 March, but we are now facing a massive volume of work, especially in terms on discussing details with the clubs," said spokesman Latif Novruzov.