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“Players weren’t even given a dressing room”- Armenian national team have faced serious problems in Estonia

Why Joaquín Caparrós’ post-match press conference didn’t take place? How Estonians treated Armenian team delegation? How players’ mental state was in Estonia before the match?

Armenian Football Federation Head of Public Relations and Information Department, Press Secretary Hayk Karapetyan answered all of the questions above in an interview with VNews.am.

Joaquín Caparrós’ post-match press conference didn’t take place after the team’s clash with Estonia. Official statement claimed it was due to COVID-19, but we know that in that case, many press conferences have taken place online. What was the real reason?

The reason was really COVID-19 pandemic, however, in the past three times, we held Joaquín Caparrós’ press conferences online. We could have done it again this time, but Estonians were quite “cautious” and “sensitive” when it came to COVID-19. In the matchday morning, my Estonian partner and as well UEFA Venue Operations and Broadcast Manager called me. They told me it is not encouraged to enter the press conference room, because they are afraid of COVID-19 pandemic spread. Obviously, I was aware that press conferences must take place, but as they noted, there wouldn’t be any fine, and it is better to comply safety rules.

Was anybody in the delegation infected by coronavirus?

Let me go into the details and say what the issue was. Just like after the training in Armenia, before the match vs Georgia in Poland, the whole delegation of AFF had been tested negative for COVID-19. After arriving in Estonia, according to Estonian government rules, the whole AFF delegation has been tested again. Unfortunately, this time one of our administrative employees tested positive. And here all the problems started. According to UEFA Return to play protocol, if one of delegation members tests positive, they should self-isolate. This was immediately done by the AFF delegation. The person who has contacted the infected delegation member also self-isolated. The two members didn’t arrive in hotel by players’ bus but by a separate car. In fact, none of the players had contacted them, so the match couldn’t be in danger. However, trials weren’t done yet. 1.5 hour before Caparrós’ pre-match press conference, UEFA Venue Operations and Broadcast Manager called me to say it’s encouraged to hold press conference in the hotel, not in the stadium. It wasn’t comfortable to do it in the hotel, however, we managed to hold the conference in one of the conference halls. Obviously, there wasn’t any UEFA branding decoration. Nor UEFA neither Estonian Football Federation provided sound system. So we were forced to separate one microphone among four people.

If in the stadium conference room wasn’t provided, logically the stadium shouldn’t been provided either.

The stadium was provided, but when the team arrived for training, no one met us or provided dressing room. Players were forced to dress up in the stadium and return to hotel to take shower. However, it wasn’t enough for Estonians. They continued to take every opportunity and create inconvenient situations for our delegation. EFF informed that due to their Healthcare ministry rules, our players and coaches should take another test. As this wasn’t included in UEFA guideline, our delegation refused to do it. Estonians noted if we are refusing to take a test then they can’t allow us to enter the stadium. 6 hours before the game, the situation was unclear, so we didn’t know whether the game could take place. Our delegation clear position was that double testing would not happen. Finally, after FFA and UEFA negotiations Estonian side was forced to yield. It was decided that the match will take place in the established time and without double testing.

Was everything ok before and during the game?

Not so much. When FFA delegation arrived in stadium before the players, Estonians told us that we can’t enter the stadium. They claimed we should wait for the players and enter the stadium together. The situation was unacceptable as FFA president and vice-president were also there. Finally, we entered the stadium, just after we complained about the situation to the UEFA delegate and the responsible for the organization. I understand that we should be cautious and keep all the safety rules, however, it was clear, that Estonians were doing everything to cause additional inconvenience and extra pressure. In the stadium no one met us and EFF president didn’t invite us to watch the game together. It’s an accepted rule and Estonians broke that rule as well.

Are FFA preparing to complain about EFF behaviour in some kind of way?

First, let me say, that while in Estonia FFA president Armen Melikbekyan had multiple phone conversations with UEFA leadership, who labeled Estonians behavior unacceptable. Our side claims that if Estonians can’t properly provide the organization and holding of the match, they should get a technical defeat. Thanks to the cooperation of the FFA president and UEFA relevant representatives, finally, the game took place.

6 hours before the game players didn’t know whether the game could take place. I told them about the change in the pre-match plans. I don’t want to say all of this has anything to do with the game process, but obviously, this could psychologically affect players, as they are mentally getting ready for the game. To add to this factor, all the players wherein Artsakh in their minds. It is hard to concentrate when your brother, friend, or relative fights to the death on the battlefield.